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Diaz set to step in for Moore on Rangers defense

by Tal Pinchevsky

NEW YORK -- New York Rangers defenseman Raphael Diaz will replace John Moore against the Montreal Canadiens in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final on Thursday at Madison Square Garden (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS).

The Rangers lead the best-of-7 series 3-2.

Diaz confirmed after the Rangers' morning skate that he would be in for Moore, who was suspended two games Wednesday by the NHL's Department of Player Safety for an illegal hit to the head of Canadiens' forward Dale Weise in the third period of Game 5 on Tuesday.

"I'm fresh and I didn't play for a couple of weeks. Now I've got the opportunity," Diaz said. "I have fresh legs, but it's important to find the rhythm right away from the start. This is really important."

Diaz hasn't played in more than three weeks. He last suited up for New York in Games 3 and 4 of the Eastern Conference Second Round against the Pittsburgh Penguins. In those two Rangers losses, Diaz replaced Moore, who was a healthy scratch for two games before being reinserted into the lineup for Game 5.

Diaz also came into the lineup after Moore sustained a concussion in mid-March. With Moore out, Diaz played on the left side alongside Kevin Klein and assumed the left point spot on the Rangers' second power-play unit.

Klein expects to be able to help Diaz make the transition to the speed of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and doesn't anticipate any problems in that regard.

"The main thing will just be talking to him about the pressure and giving him support all over the ice," Klein said. "That's the key, just talking to him and getting into that game speed mentality, letting him know the forecheck coming down on us and letting him know where our outlets are. He'll be good. He's been working hard with the guys when he hasn't been playing and he'll transition easily."

The transition might actually be more difficult for Klein than it is for Diaz. He has to go from playing with the left-handed shooting Moore to the right-handed shooting Diaz on the left side, and that will change the way Klein places the puck in certain situations.

"Try not to put him in any positions where I force him to his backhand to have an out, the D-to-D passes, things like that," Klein said of the difference. "You just have to make sure you put extra emphasis on where you put the puck."

With a trip to the Stanley Cup Final hanging on the balance, the opportunity is even more special for Diaz given the fact he started his career with Montreal before being traded to the Vancouver Canucks for Weise on Feb. 3. The Rangers then acquired Diaz from Vancouver at the NHL Trade Deadline.

"I think it's a big challenge. We have home advantage and it's going to be a good game," Diaz said. "I know the [Canadiens], I know the players, I was playing for them, and I think it's a great challenge and I'm really excited to play the game."

Rangers coach Alain Vigneault would not officially confirm Diaz's place in the lineup, pointing out he also had defenseman Justin Falk as an option, but he couldn't help but laugh when it was pointed out Diaz had already confirmed his place.

"We'll see tonight," Vigneault said in French.

Diaz's history replacing Moore and the fact he left the ice at the end of practice Thursday long before Falk also indicated he will play in Game 6. Falk has been a healthy scratch for 59 of New York's 60 games since Jan. 1.

Vigneault may not have made Diaz's presence official, but he said the Swiss defenseman had plenty to offer the Rangers.

"He's not overly physical, but he's got good instincts. He moves the puck well, he can help us on the power play," Vigneault said. "So he's going to be alright. Every time we've used him this year, he's been good for us."

The Rangers aren't expecting any other lineup changes. They would, however, like to forget their effort from their 7-4 Game 5 loss in Montreal on Tuesday. Save for a three-goal outburst in a 4:24 span of the second period, New York struggled against the Canadiens with a chance to punch their ticket to the Cup Final.

"We watched some clips, and it was an eye-opener and a huge difference compared to the way we've been playing before last game. We're going to be a lot better tonight," forward Rick Nash said.

Playing in a conference final for the first time in his career, Nash admitted to thinking about how close his team was to advancing to the Cup Final.

"You definitely think about that. I think it would be a lie if you said you didn't," Nash said. "You're one win away to get a chance to compete for it. It's definitely in the back of the mind."

Here are the projected lineups for Game 6:


Max PaciorettyDavid DesharnaisBrendan Gallagher

Alex GalchenyukTomas PlekanecBrian Gionta

Rene BourqueDaniel BriereThomas Vanek

Michael BournivalLars EllerBrandon Prust

Josh GorgesP.K. Subban

Andrei MarkovMike Weaver

Francis BouillonNathan Beaulieu

Dustin Tokarski

Peter Budaj

Scratched: Douglas Murray, George Parros, Jarred Tinordi, Travis Moen, Ryan White

Injured: Carey Price (knee), Dale Weise (undisclosed), Alexei Emelin (undisclosed)


Chris Kreider - Derek Stepan - Rick Nash

Carl Hagelin - Brad Richards - Martin St. Louis

Benoit Pouliot - Derick Brassard - Mats Zuccarello

Brian Boyle - Dominic Moore - Derek Dorsett

Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi

Marc Staal - Anton Stralman

Raphael Diaz - Kevin Klein

Henrik Lundqvist

Cam Talbot

Suspended: Daniel Carcillo, John Moore

Injured: J.T. Miller (upper body)

Scratched: Justin Falk, Jesper Fast

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