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Rangers back at work to prepare for Stanley Cup Final

by Dan Rosen

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- A group of New York Rangers players went to the Yankees game on Saturday as a way to unwind. Rick Nash said he walked around Manhattan to get some fresh air and relax. Others stayed home with their wife and kids, catching up on some lost family time.

"Definitely a mental break," said Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh, one of the few who went to Yankee Stadium.

To a man, the Rangers' players commented that staying away from the rink Friday and Saturday was exactly what they needed after playing 20 games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and booking their ticket to the Stanley Cup Final with a 1-0 win against the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday night.

They were thrust back into reality Sunday, even though it still feels like a dream to be playing meaningful hockey in June.

The Rangers went through the first of three consecutive workouts in preparation of the Cup Final at their suburban training facility. It was a 45-minute high-paced practice. The only players missing were backup goalie Cam Talbot (undisclosed injury, day-to-day) and forward J.T. Miller (upper-body injury, day-to-day).

"After two days like that it kind of felt like we were gone for three weeks, but we're pretty excited to be here," center Derick Brassard said. "We're going to watch the game tonight like everyone. It doesn't matter where we're going."

It seemed like Brassard said the last part of the quote as a way to deflect any further questions regarding if he or the Rangers as a whole have a preference on who they will face in the Cup Final.

The answer will be determined late Sunday night (or potentially early Monday morning on the east coast), when the Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks play Game 7 of the Western Conference Final at United Center (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC, RDS).

The Rangers' team plane will take them to L.A. or Chicago after practice Monday. That's as far ahead as they're thinking now.

"Being able to close it out in Game 6 was a great feeling and obviously a great memory, but I don't think our group is satisfied at all yet," McDonagh said. "We have some guys who have won a Cup and they talked to us right after the game about trying to seize this opportunity. It's taken [Brad Richards] and Marty [St. Louis] a handful of years to get back here. I think our group is really trying to make that hit home. Obviously you want to enjoy this, you want your family to be a part of this, but at the same time you might only get one kick at the can at this so you want to go out and make sure you're ready."

Rangers coach Alain Vigneault insists his team will be ready for either opponent. He has some experience in this department too.

Vigneault went against the Blackhawks and Kings a combined five times in the playoffs as the coach of the Vancouver Canucks, including three times head-to-head against Chicago coach Joel Quenneville and once against L.A. coach Darryl Sutter. He is 13-17 in those games.

Chicago wiped out the Canucks in six games en route to winning the Stanley Cup in 2010. The Kings handled Vancouver in five games on their way to winning the Cup in 2012.

"Whichever team we play, I know them both real well," Vigneault said. "We'll be able to get our group ready for it."

The process is already underway.

Vigneault's goal is to spend the three days before Game 1 of the Cup Final preparing his team to play at the same level it played Thursday night against the Canadiens.

The Rangers won 1-0 and outshot the Canadiens 32-18. Vigneault called it New York's best game of the playoffs to date in his postgame press conference. He said the same thing Sunday.

"It was 1-0 but it could have been a lot more than 1-0," Vigneault said. "I thought defensively it was our best game of the playoffs, but offensively, I mean we got some unreal looks. Give their goaltender [Dustin Tokarski] a lot of credit. He was phenomenal in that game."

As part of his preparation, Vigneault said he met with the Rangers' management and coaching staffs Saturday to go over all the logistics he thinks should be put into play, regardless of opponent.

He said his experience taking the Canucks to the 2011 Cup Final played a part in that planning.

"I've done that part [meeting with management and his staff], and now it's time to help the players do their part," Vigneault said. "I've got a pretty good idea here of what's coming, and it's my job and my coaches job to make sure our players can get in the right frame of mind so that Game 6, we can put that right back on the ice again."


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