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Rangers back home seeking 3-0 lead on Canadiens

by Tal Pinchevsky


(New York leads best-of-7 series 2-0)


Big story: The New York Rangers are riding a wave of momentum entering Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final. Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist is playing some of the best hockey of his career, forward Rick Nash has scored in consecutive games after going without a goal in the first 14 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and the power play has scored four times in 10 attempts in the series.

Now the Rangers are looking forward to enjoying one thing they didn't have in the first two games: a boisterous Madison Square Garden crowd.

"Having fan support is obviously huge at this time of the year. Unconditional love, it's something that's really beneficial to a team," New York coach Alain Vigneault said after practice Wednesday. "It's so demanding on the ice. They could really help you energy-wise. It's a fun time."

Team Scope:

Rangers: Forward Chris Kreider has become a central figure in this series. He scored the winner in Game 1, set up Nash's winner in Game 2, and his combination of size, strength and speed has been a challenging matchup for the Montreal defense.

Since he returned to the lineup in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Second Round against the Pittsburgh Penguins after being out with a fractured hand, New York is 5-1. His play is reminiscent of his first playoff run in 2012, when he scored five goals in 18 games after completing his college career at Boston College.

"Back then, it was just suit up and go out and play. It wasn't a lot of pressure. It was a really fun environment," Kreider said. "I don't think there's as much pressure now. It's still a fun environment. Being a more knowledgeable and older player (23), I have more responsibility."

Canadiens: Goalie Dustin Tokarski will start Game 3 for Montreal, coach Michel Therrien confirmed after practice Wednesday. The 24-year-old played in 10 NHL games before Game 2, when he stopped 27 of 30 shots in his Stanley Cup Playoff debut, a 3-1 loss.

Forward Thomas Vanek, who has no points, one shot and a minus-3 rating, took turns skating on the fourth line during practice Wednesday, meaning he could be in for a demotion from the top line.

"Now I'm at a point where I have to make some decisions, we normally judge with goals and assists," Therrien said. "That's not always the way we do things, but if I see they've got chances, I like to stick with it. If I see it's the opposite, now I've got to take some decisions. Hopefully, by making some changes, something's going to happen."

Who's hot: Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh has six points in his past two games. Forward Derek Stepan has six points in his past four. Lundqvist has stopped 60 of 63 shots (a .952 save percentage). … Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty has three goals in his past four games. Forward Lars Eller has three points in his past four games.

Injury report: Rangers forward Derick Brassard (upper body) skated Wednesday and could return for Game 3. "It was good to get back out there with my teammates," Brassard said. "I haven't talked to the medical staff, we'll see what's going to happen." … Canadiens goalie Carey Price (knee) is out for the series.

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