Just another of many reminders: We will hold another Live ECF Chat Friday at noon. Be there. Or else.
Here’s my column and notebook from The Journal News and Lohud.com:
By Rick Carpiniello
NEW YORK – This is the big time now for the Rangers. This is the time where you don’t want to let anything slip away, where you can’t afford any crack that might lead to regret.
The Rangers play a game Thursday at the Garden in which, realistically and theoretically, they can afford to lose. But can they? Is this the most dangerous, most pivotal game of the Eastern Conference final?
Two wins away from the Stanley Cup final might as well be two miles.
The opportunity in the Rangers’ collective grasp is immense, maybe the last for many of their players, coaches, front-office people and owner. Maybe the last for some of the fans who have seen one Stanley Cup in 74 years, and none in 20 since that “Now I can Die In Peace” sign went up on June 14, 1994.
It is shocking and surprising that they are here, up 2-0 on the Montreal Canadiens, who have a huge question mark in goal, but it cannot be taken lightly. And it cannot be kicked away.
So the Rangers’ mission is to win Game 3, and not let this become an opportunity lost, not make it a nail-biting, heart-stopper, as they usually do.
“We know we’ve accomplished nothing yet,” said Martin St. Louis, who won a Cup 10 years ago and might never get this chance again.
Brian Boyle, who was, with many of his current teammates, two wins away from the final in 2012, said he had a talk with his fiancee this week, apologizing to her that this is the time for players to be selfish — single-minded, narrow-focused.
Those 2012 Rangers were two wins away. They weren’t up 2-0. It was 2-1 against the Devils, and Henrik Lundqvist had tossed shutouts in both wins. That was it. The Rangers lost Game 4, and it got away from them. They had chances to win Games 5 and 6, but didn’t. And they regretted it.
It’s also not like a 2-0 lead is insurmountable. Los Angeles came back from 0-3 to win a series this season. The Rangers came back from 0-2 to beat Washington last year. And, in fact, the last time they played Montreal, in 1996, they lost the first two at home, as the Canadiens have done here, then won four in a row.
Prior to this spring, 291 times a team trailed 0-2, and 37 succeeded (12.7 percent). It happens.
The Rangers return home, triumphant in five straight playoff games since being booed off the Garden ice in Game 4 against Pittsburgh.
This is an opportunity to grab something special, and to do it at home. The locker room Wednesday was shoulder-to-shoulder in media, many asking the players about the attention, many of those no more hockey-savvy than the radio folks talking hockey for the first time since 2012. Lundqvist said he’s avoiding radio and TV as much as he can.
“You just have to keep reminding yourself how you’ve had success so far and stay in the moment and not get carried away,” Lundqvist said. “Yeah, we’ve got a great start. But that’s all it is. It’s about getting four wins, not two, or three.”
NOTEBOOK: EXPECT BRASSARD TO PLAY GAME 3, TOKARSKI TOO.
NEW YORK – Rangers center Derick Brassard went through a full practice Wednesday at the Garden and is expected to play in Game 3 Thursday. Brassard missed Game 2 with what appeared to be a left shoulder/upper back injury after being hit by Mike Weaver and leaving in the first period of Game 1.
“I feel better,” Brassard said. “I went through the whole practice, so that’s a good sign. I’ve come a long way from a couple of days ago, so we’ll see (Thursday).”
Rangers coach Alain Vigneault smiled, but would only say he’s “day-to-day, that hasn’t changed.”
In Montreal between games, Vigneault said Brassard didn’t want to come out of the lineup, being a local product.
“I was pretty frustrated when it happened,” Brassard said. “When you’re playing a (conference final) like that against Montreal, playing at home there, I was pretty mad about it. But injuries are part of the game and I tried to heal quicker and get back out there and help my teammates.”
Maintenance: Benoit Pouliot, Brassard’s linemate, did not practice Wednesday. Vigneault called it a “maintenance day,’’ meaning he has some sort of ache or bruise or something. J.T. Miller practiced in his spot on Brassard’s wing, but Vigneault indicated that Pouliot will play Game 3. That would likely mean that Daniel Carcillo would be scratched, and Dominic Moore, who filled in for Brassard in Game 2, would slide back down to fourth-line center.
The kid again: In Montreal, where the Canadiens skated, coach Michel Therrien said that rookie Dustin Tokarski, who played Game 2 after the Game 1, series-ending knee injury to No. 1 goalie Carey Price, will also start Game 3.
Winger Thomas Vanek, meanwhile, alternated on the fourth line in practice, leading to speculation that he might be injured or a healthy scratch for Game 3. —Rick Carpiniello
Photos by Getty Images.