After more than a week of inconsequential hockey, the page can be turned on the Rangers’ regular season.
The next time the Blueshirts will take the ice following their 3-2 home win over Pittsburgh Sunday night in their regular-season finale will be for Game 1 of the first round in Montreal, likely to take place on Wednesday.
“We’re pretty antsy, especially in the locker room,” Ryan McDonagh said after scoring a goal in his return from a four-game absence. “It’s going to be a different intensity level here going forward and we’re going to try to get everyone on the same page and get prepared (to) play our best hockey.”
McDonagh had last played on March 28, the night the Rangers officially clinched their playoff spot. Nursing a minor ailment, the Rangers played it safe with their captain and most important player aside from Henrik Lundqvist, but McDonagh did want to get one game in before the postseason so he wouldn’t end up going roughly two weeks between games. McDonagh, Rick Nash, Mats Zuccarello, Derek Stepan, Marc Staal and Nick Holden all returned while Chris Kreider, Kevin Hayes and Brendan Smith sat. Jesper Fast remained out.
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“It obviously felt good,” said McDonagh, who also assisted on Derek Stepan’s power-play goal and logged a team-high 21:08 of ice time. “The time off helps there. I had a couple of plays in my zone and went back, putting pucks in certain areas. I felt really strong in my skates and I felt fast and powerful, so that’s a good sign here to get ready.”
Now the Rangers have a couple of days to transition from the meaningless games they’ve played in over the last week to the type of intensity and determination that comes with competing in the playoffs.
“We’ve got a lot of guys with experience here,” McDonagh said. “We’ve got to lean on that experience and understand that there’s no small plays here. You’re gonna need absolutely everybody to be all the way sharp in their game both mentally and physically — doing the things off the ice to make sure you’re ready physically, and obviously mentally get yourself focused so when you’re on the ice you’re making the right plays.”
These last few games had an exhibition feel, but everything the Rangers want is now right in front of them.
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“I don’t think we played our best hockey the last three games,” said Zuccarello, who was voted the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award winner for the third time. “It’s kind of hard. We haven’t had anything to play for, really. We have to go home tonight and start the mindset that it’s gonna be a tough series here.”
Antti Raanta was lined up to start but didn’t because of a knee bruise suffered on a shot in Friday’s practice. He’ll be fine for the playoffs, Alain Vigneault said. Magnus Hellberg was called up on an emergency basis and made 22 saves to earn the win in his first career NHL start.
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