Montreal Canadiens v New York Rangers - Game Three

Do Rangers prefer Kings or Blackhawks? AV: ‘Pick your poison’


You won’t run into many situations in which an idle playoff team will acknowledge its preferred opponent as the next round approaches. Even so, it seems that much easier to believe the New York Rangers when they seem ambivalent regarding their opponent in the 2014 Stanley Cup Final.

As strong as the Rangers have looked during their best moments in their first run to the championship round in 20 years, there’s a good chance most pundits will predict that the winner of Sunday’s Game 7 between the Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks will go on to win it all.

Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault certainly didn’t provide any potential bulletin board material to the Bergen Record, deeming it a “pick your poison” situation.

“They’re two different teams,” Derick Brassard said. “Chicago is really high skilled. They transition really well. They have a good D corps. And L.A. is in your face. They work hard. But it doesn’t matter. We never picked our opponent. Every round you’re facing a different team and you’re up for the challenge.”

Whether the Rangers are “rooting” for one team or the other, they admit that they’ll watch tonight’s big contest.

They’ll bring an interesting perspective, too.

“I think it’s 50-50 – as a fan, but also you try to see what they like to do,” Henrik Lundqvist said. “We only played them twice, so we kind of know what to expect, but we’re going to have meetings in the next couple of days to go over what they like to do. But, a big part of me just likes watching the games right now. It’s intense out there. It’s good speed and great players making great plays, good goaltending. So, it’s fun to watch the game.

“So, I’m a fan, but also will try to learn a little bit.”

For what it’s worth, the Rangers fared pretty well in their games against those Western Conference powers:

Jan. 3: 3-2 at Chicago
Feb. 27: 2-1 win vs. Chicago

Oct. 7: 3-1 win at Los Angeles
Nov. 17: 1-0 loss vs. Los Angeles

Obviously a lot of time has passed and the stakes are significantly higher, so they might actually learn more from watching these two teams on June 1 than they would from meetings stretching back several months.

Hitchcock going to more aggressive attack for Blues

Ken Hitchcock
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ST. LOUIS (AP) After three straight first-round playoff exits, the St. Louis Blues have learned to temper expectations.

They have been consistently among the NHL’s best in the regular season and realize it is past time to build something for the long haul. The sting still lingers from the latest failure, against the Minnesota Wild last spring.

“We’re all disappointed, everybody can agree on that,” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “It’s never easy to kind of think about your failures, but we grow every time it happens.”

Management isn’t ready to tear it all down yet.

“We play, in my opinion, one of the toughest if not the toughest division in the NHL, and we’ve finished first or second in the last four years,” forward Alexander Steen said. “So we have an extremely powerful team.”

Maybe a change in strategy will be enough: Coach Ken Hitchcock is back with a mandate for a more aggressive, even reckless, style of play from a roster that hasn’t changed appreciably.

“We’re coming hard from the back and we’re coming hard to see how close we can get to the attack,” Hitchcock said. “I think it’s where the game’s at; I think it’s where the game’s going to go.”

The 63-year-old Hitchcock is pushing forward, too, unwilling to dwell on the flameouts. Coach and players agree that would be “wasted energy.”

“My opinion is when you sit and think about the past, you do yourself no good,” Hitchcock said. “If you learn from the past, that’s when you do yourself a whole bunch of good.”

There were only two major roster casualties. Forward Troy Brouwer came from Washington in a trade for fan favorite T.J. Oshie. Defenseman Barret Jackman, the franchise career leader in games, wasn’t re-signed.

“If you were expecting 23 new faces to be on the roster this year, I don’t think that was realistic,” captain David Backes said. “We’re going to miss those guys in the room and on the ice, but there has been some changeover and I think it’s pretty significant.”

Things to watch for with the Blues:

GOALIE SHUFFLE: Just like last year, there’s no true No. 1 with Brian Elliott and Jake Allen sharing duties. The 25-year-old Allen missed a chance to seize the job last spring when he failed to raise his level in the playoffs.

TOP THREAT: Vladimir Tarasenko had a breakout season with 37 goals and was rewarded with an eight-year, $60 million contract. The 23-year-old winger is by far the Blues’ most dangerous scoring option and said he won’t let the money affect his play. “I never worry about it,” Tarasenko said. “If you play good, you play good.”

NEW FACES: Brouwer and center Kyle Brodziak add a physical element that was perhaps lacking a bit last season. Brouwer has three 20-plus goal seasons and Brodziak, acquired from Minnesota, fills a checking role. Veteran forward Scottie Upshall got a one-year, two-way deal after being coming to camp as a tryout. Rookie forward Robby Fabbri, a first-round pick last year, will get an early look. Another promising youngster, forward Ty Rattie, begins the year at Chicago of the AHL.

RECOVERY WARD: Forward Jori Lehteri bounced back quickly from ankle surgery and opens the season without restrictions. Another forward, Patrik Berglund, could miss half of the season following shoulder surgery.

TRACK RECORD: The Blues won the Central Division last season and Hitchcock, fourth on the career list with 708 regular-season wins, has consistently had the team near the top of the standings. “He is our coach, tough cookies if you don’t like it,” Backes said. “From my experience, he puts together one heck of a game plan.”

It looks like Havlat won’t make Panthers

Martin Havlat

As PHT’s mentioned before, the Florida Panthers stand as a fascinating contrast between youth and experience.

Let’s not kid ourselves, though; fresh faces usually beat out gray beards, at least when it comes to teams that are still trying to build toward contender status.

While it’s by no means official, two Panthers beat writers – the Miami Herald’s George Richards and the Florida Sun-Sentinel’s Harvey Fialkov – report that the Panthers are likely to pass on Martin Havlat.

It wasn’t just about the likes of Jonathan Huberdeau and Nick Bjugstad leading the charge. Other young Panthers (maybe most notably Quinton Howden and Connor Brickley) made the team, thus making Havlat less necessary.

One would assume that it might be tough for the 34-year-old to find work, at least if he insists upon only an NHL deal.

Health issues continue to dog him, but he’s no longer one of those guys who tantalizes with talent when he is healthy enough to play.

Havlat also doesn’t really bring much to the table defensively. While other veterans can kill penalties and show a little more verstaility, Havlat’s greatest selling point is scoring.

Could this be it for a solid career that may nonetheless end with a “What if?” or two?