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Rangers keeping Miller at right wing on top line

by Evan Sporer /

NEW YORK -- Forward J.T. Miller has played everywhere in the New York Rangers lineup. His latest assignment is skating next to center Derick Brassard and left wing Rick Nash on the top line, a spot coach Alain Vigneault said Miller will remain in for Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Sunday at Madison Square Garden (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).

"Every player has a role and a directive, something he's supposed to do," Vigneault said. "In J.T.'s case, he's a skilled, physical forward that is tough to handle in 1-on-1 situations.

"The reason I moved him up is because I think he's been one of our better forwards."

Miller began the Stanley Cup Playoffs on a line with center Derek Stepan and left wing Chris Kreider. He's also played at times on the fourth line with James Sheppard and Tanner Glass.

The absence of injured forward Mats Zuccarello has forced Vigneault to find a new forward to play with Nash and Brassard on a line crucial to the Rangers' success.

"I've played with them before, and I've played with a lot of the guys, so when I change like that, it's not too bad," Miller said. "I know what to expect from them, and vice versa from me."

The early returns were good: Nash scored two goals in Game 4 on Friday in a 5-1 Rangers win, tying the best-of-7 series at 2-2. The two goals matched Nash's playoff total in the Rangers' first 15 playoff games.

"I like to be playing in the physical part of the game, and open up some ice for those guys," Miller said. "If I have the opportunity to get them the puck, I have to get it to them, and if I have an opportunity to shoot, I think I should shoot. If you see Rick streaking down the wing, you want to get him the puck; you don't want to leave him out to dry. It's the same with [Brassard]; he has great vision, and you want to get him the puck when he's open."

Nash is a player the Rangers count on to score. Miller said he knows part of his responsibilities when playing on that line is to get Nash his chances.

"You don't want to look him off; if he's open, get him the puck," Miller said. "He scored all those goals for a reason, and he's been playing great every game. He'd probably like to score more, and last game he had an awesome game. He's played the same way.

"He's getting his looks, he's getting all his shots and his chances; it's just a matter of it going in for him."

After playing with Miller in Game 4, Nash said Miller can help open up some needed space for him on the ice.

"Any time you have someone on your line, if you can achieve that, it helps," Nash said. "I've never played on a team with so much depth where almost any combination you feel comfortable with. … It doesn't really matter.

"But J.T. seems to kind of back off their defensemen a little bit."

Miller began this season with the Rangers before getting assigned to their American Hockey League affiliate, the Hartford Wolf Pack. He played 18 games in Hartford this season, but has carved out a role for himself in the NHL.

"When he skates he's a different player; when he moves his feet, he creates a lot of offense," Nash said. "He's got a great shot. He's a physical guy. He's kind of got a lot of tools of a top power forward, so he can definitely open up some room on the ice as well."

And Miller doesn't plan on going anywhere.

"It feels good to be a part of a consistent thing, and you learn from that, and try to drink it all in, and be ready for this year," he said. "It's been pretty good so far."

Here are the projected lineups:


Alex Killorn - Valtteri Filppula - Steven Stamkos

Nikita Kucherov - Tyler Johnson - Ondrej Palat

Brian Boyle - Cedric Paquette - Ryan Callahan

J.T. Brown - Brenden Morrow

Victor Hedman - Anton Stralman

Braydon Coburn - Jason Garrison

Matthew Carle- Andrej Sustr

Nikita Nesterov

Ben Bishop

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Scratched: Jonathan Drouin, Jonathan Marchessault, Vladislav Namestnikov, Mark Barberio

Injured: none


Rick Nash - Derick Brassard - J.T. Miller

Chris Kreider - Derek Stepan - Jesper Fast

Carl Hagelin - Kevin Hayes - Martin St. Louis

Tanner Glass - Dominic Moore - James Sheppard

Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi

Marc Staal - Dan Boyle

Keith Yandle - Kevin Klein

Henrik Lundqvist

Cam Talbot

Scratched: Ryan Bourque, Matt Hunwick, Chris Summers

Injured: Mats Zuccarello (upper body)

Status report: McDonagh, Fast and Moore did not participate in the morning skate, and Vigneault said they were taking time off for maintenance. … Zuccarello did not skate Sunday, and Vigneault said he is day-to-day.

Who's hot: Nash had two goals and an assist in Game 4. Yandle has a goal and four assists in his past two games.


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