NEW YORK — Even though his New York Rangers could be swept in the Stanley Cup Final tonight at Madison Square Garden, coach Alain Vigneault was in a good mood this morning.
Certainly, it was better than the mood he was in yesterday, when he asked reporters to excuse his players if they weren’t “real cheery” the day after they’d fallen behind the Los Angeles Kings, 3-0, with a tremendously disappointing loss on home ice.
“I didn’t think anybody would be making cartwheels yesterday,” Vigneault said this morning. “Today, we’re back at work. We had a good meeting this morning. We’re getting ready for a good hockey game tonight.”
The coach even ended his media availability with a joke: “I had my Netflix imitation for you guys today. Nobody asked.”
Not surprisingly, the Rangers are also trying to take inspiration from their opponents, who earlier in the playoffs fought back from a 3-0 series deficit to defeat the San Jose Sharks in seven games. Not to mention, New York had its own big comeback this postseason, battling back to beat Pittsburgh after trailing 3-1.
“We know it can be done,” said defenseman Kevin Klein. “It’s been done before. I don’t know if it’s been done before in the Stanley Cup finals*, but it’s one of those things where you know it can be done.
“Right now our focus is on this game. You take it one game by game like we did against Pittsburgh and we managed to come back from a 3-1 deficit, so we know it’s possible.”
*Once, by the 1942 Maple Leafs.
John Stevens, who just wrapped a four-year career at Northeastern University, has signed a two-year, entry-level deal with the Islanders, the club announced on Monday.
Stevens, 22, went undrafted but emerged as a valuable player for the Huskies, culminating with a senior season in which he served as captain and averaged better than a point per game (28 in 25 contests).
Stevens is the son of longtime L.A. Kings associate coach John Stevens, who formerly served as the bench boss in Philly.
A third member 0f the Stevens clan, Nolan, also played this season at Northeastern — his junior campaign — and was taken by St. Louis in the fifth round of last year’s draft.
Curtis McElhinney will start in goal for the Maple Leafs when they host Florida tomorrow.
Which means Toronto’s regular starter, Frederik Andersen, will not.
Andersen, hurt Saturday in Buffalo, only lasted 20 minutes of practice this morning. The Toronto Star, citing a Leafs source, is reporting that Andersen “took a blow to his jaw from a player in Saturday’s 5-2 loss to the Sabres.”
McElhinney is 4-5-0 with a .919 save percentage in 10 appearances for the Leafs this season. He told reporters that tomorrow will be the biggest start of his NHL career.
It remains to be seen who will back up McElhinney against the Panthers. The Leafs have recalled goalie Garret Sparks from the AHL on an emergency basis. All three netminders were on the ice today.
Expect Sparks to be the back-up tomorrow.
Toronto has a three-point playoff cushion, with eight games remaining.
The Leafs also recalled forward Kasperi Kapanen, the 22nd overall draft pick in 2014. Kapanen, 20, has 18 goals and 25 assists in 43 games for the Marlies this season. He’s expected to replace Ben Smith on the fourth line, alongside Brian Boyle and Matt Martin.
Victor Mete, Montreal’s fourth-round pick at last year’s draft, has signed his three-year, entry-level deal, the club announced on Monday.
Mete, 18, is in his third year with OHL powerhouse London, and finished this season with 15 goals and 44 points in 50 games. He’s developed a reputation as a terrific skater, and often plays alongside fellow Knights d-man Olli Juolevi, who the Canucks took fifth overall at last year’s draft.
London assistant coach Dylan Hunter had high praise for Mete this season.
“When it comes to little nuances of his game, stick on puck, knowing when to make a play and when there isn’t a play to just get it out, he’s one of the best there is right now,” Hunter said, per the London Free Press.
“He does everything for us.”
Mete has one year of junior eligibility remaining, so it’s likely he’ll be back in London next season. At 5-foot-10 and just 180 pounds, he’s undersized and could use another year of development before turning pro.
Pittsburgh wasted little time in getting Jeff Taylor in the mix.
Taylor, the Union College senior defenseman who had his collegiate career end over the weekend, signed a two-year, entry-level deal on Monday, and also inked an ATO to join the club’s AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
Taylor, the club’s seventh-round pick in 2014, enjoyed a career year at Union, helping the Dutchmen advance to the NCAA Tournament by setting career highs in goals (9) and points (33) in 38 games.
Back in December, Pens assistant GM Bill Guerin spoke glowingly about Taylor’s last collegiate campaign, saying he was in the midst of a “great” senior season.
“This is a kid we’ve been looking forward to getting since we drafted him,” Guerin said, per the Post-Gazette. “I remember his first development camp, everybody was like, ‘Oh, wow, look at this kid. He can move the puck, he can skate, he’s quick. He thinks the game well.’ And it hasn’t stopped.
“He’s an undersized guy, but he has the ability to get himself out of trouble because he’s got great feet and he thinks the game well.”