Here’s the unedited version of a column I wrote for The Journal News and Lohud.com:
By Rick Carpiniello
GREENBURGH – Alain Vigneault held his forefinger and his thumb less than inch apart when he was talking Tuesday about the difference between the Rangers and the Philadelphia Flyers.
The Rangers coach, after practice in preparation for Thursday’s series opener at the Garden, said there’s not much difference at all.
The Rangers will have a decided advantage in goal – especially if Steve Mason, who has an injury many (including the Rangers) believe is a concussion, is unavailable.
The Rangers are certainly better on defense with the expected return of Ryan McDonagh from a shoulder injury. You could argue special teams and coaching and intangibles all you want. Up front, though, the Flyers are better.
And they are better by a lot unless the Rangers’ top forwards show up in a big way.
That means Rick Nash, who was terrible for two rounds last spring then said his performance was “good.” That means Martin St. Louis, who came here in exchange for the Rangers’ gritty captain, a first-round pick and a conditional second-rounder then scored one goal in 18 games. That means Brad Richards, who was so bad last spring that John Tortorella demoted him to the fourth line, then scratched him altogether for the final two games against Boston.
It means Derek Stepan, too, who centers Nash and St. Louis on what should be the Rangers’ No. 1 line, and who has been very good lately, but has a spotty playoff record.
On top of all of that, the Rangers have to be concerned about Derick Brassard, who centers what should be the third line, but has consistently been the Rangers’ best line. Brassard left practice early with what appeared to be a painful back injury. He was walking hunched over, and very slowly, to the trainer’s room.
Vigneault offered no info on Brassard’s injury, other than, “I would say yes” when asked if he will play Thursday. Vigneault added that Chris Kreider (hand surgery) remains out indefinitely – Kreider skated on his own after practice Tuesday.
J.T. Miller could fill Brassard’s spot if needed, and Tuesday Vigneault backpedaled like Darrell Revis on the issue of Miller’s “commitment” that he brought up when the rookie was sent to Hartford April 3. Vigneault said the comment was interpreted incorrectly, and that he could have said the same about any young player.
St. Louis got a night off for the finale in Montreal, and he’s been better lately than he had been for weeks after the trade.
“I felt great down the stretch,” he said. “I felt really good. … I don’t think I’m lacking confidence right now. I feel really good about my game and just excited to get going.”
“It’s a new start for everybody. … This is an exciting time for everybody. You want guys who want to be a difference every game. We’ve got that in here.”
Richards joked that his new short haircut signified a fresh start.
“I felt pretty good all year,” the former Conn Smythe Trophy winner said. “There was a little dry spell there in March and I fought it a little bit. … For the most part my playoff career’s been pretty good, so I’m going to rely on that.”
Guys who have won Cups before, like St. Louis and Richards did in Tampa Bay in 2004, aren’t afraid to take aim.
“In the East anyway, I don’t see a team that doesn’t have a chance to win,” Richards said.
Unless the Rangers’ top forwards pick up their games, though that chance might fit between Vigneault’s forefinger and thumb.
Photo by Getty Images.