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Rangers look to build on 'pretty good' win

Forward Rick Nash says New York needs to improve offensive, have better start against Canadiens in Game 2

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / NHL.com Columnist

MONTREAL - No one on the New York Rangers is suggesting that they had played a perfect game on Wednesday. But a 2-0 victory against the Montreal Canadiens in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference First Round series was a fine foundation on which to build.

"It was pretty good," Rangers forward Rick Nash said Thursday following practice at Bell Centre, the site of Game 2 Friday (7 p.m. ET; USA, CBC, TVA Sports, MSG). "I thought defensively we were great. I still think the wingers can do a bit of a better job on the boards. We gave up a lot of chances by the wingers not getting the puck out, but overall, (goalie) Henrik (Lundqvist) was our best player by far on the ice and that's what we needed from him.

"It would be nice if everything went exactly the same [in Game 2]," Nash added with a laugh.

"It's going to be momentum swings, you're going to face different adversity. But it is a good template to come off and try to play that defense-first mentality."

 

[RELATED: Complete Canadiens vs. Rangers series coverage]

 

Nash was none the worse for wear after having taken Canadiens defenseman Andrei Markov's stick to his nether-regions during a feisty scrum with 25 seconds left in Game 1. Markov was given a 10-minute misconduct for the spear, though no additional discipline was forthcoming.

"It's never fun taking one of those," Nash said. "Everyone knows how you feel in your stomach afterwards but it's part of hockey. It's playoff hockey. Emotions are high. You're in a battle, a war. It's tough, things happen in a split instant."

Rangers coach Alain Vigneault referred Thursday to the incident in French, saying with a chuckle that "boys will be boys." He was focused on building off his team's performance in Game 1 and, he hopes, coming out with a stronger start in front of Lundqvist, who now has shut out the Canadiens in two straight playoff games spanning three seasons.

"There's no doubt that after getting through the first period, where Montreal was the better team [outshooting the Rangers 16-5], Hank kept that game positive for us because we were able to score on one of our chances," Vigneault said. "But I did think that after that [first period] we did some good things out there and we need to continue to work on those and improve on that.

"Montreal is a real good team. They've got balance on their four lines. Any team that's playing (Alex) Galchenyuk on their fourth line -- that's one of the most skilled players around here. It just shows you the depth they have and it tells you we're going to have to be real good going forward."

Vigneault said he doesn't prepare his team differently for road or home games, saying that sound hockey fundamentals are important regardless of the venue. He did, however, speak to NHL ice surfaces that seem to shrink come the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"There doesn't seem to be a lot of room," Vigneault said. "That's where I believe the skill and the willingness to make plays in those tight areas has to come out. I'm not going to say you're going to take some abuse, but you probably are. You've got to be willing to make a play out of nothing. That's where the great players in the playoffs make the difference."

If the postseason rink looks more compact to a coach, imagine how it seems to the players fighting for every inch of it in scrappy corners, goalmouth rumbles and in the congested neutral zone.

"There's no room. You've got to work for every inch of that ice, especially to get those grade A opportunities," Nash said. "You hear people say they have to bring their game to a different level, which they do. But at the same time, you don't want to get away from what got you there. You've got to find that happy medium to get those chances and to create that ice."

Nash and the Rangers expect the same raucous Bell Centre crowd for Game 2, pretty much a must-win for the Canadiens with Games 3 and 4 scheduled for Madison Square Garden on Sunday and Tuesday. Scoring midway through the first period of Game 1, then suffocating or frustrating the Canadiens the rest of the way, took some wind out of the arena's sails.

"That was electric last night, right?" Nash said. "The first five minutes, and that intro, were unbelievable. Being a Canadian guy, you know how passionate the fans are and how much Canadians love hockey. We knew we had to weather the storm since they were going to come out fast in the first five. That was one of our keys."

Something the Rangers no doubt will study in detail before they play Game 2 on a Bell Centre rink that's bound to shrink a few more square feet as the night wears on.

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