GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- This was why left wing Jimmy Vesey wanted to sign with the New York Rangers last summer. He knew how they've missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs once in the past 12 seasons.
Vesey, a prized unrestricted free agent after playing four seasons at Harvard University, will play in his first NHL playoff game Wednesday when the Rangers face the Montreal Canadiens in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference First Round at Bell Centre (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports, MSG).
"The Rangers are always a contender every year," Vesey said Tuesday after the Rangers skated at their practice facility before boarding a flight to Montreal. "We had a good season this year. When we're playing our game, I think we can beat anybody. It's my first crack at the Stanley Cup Playoffs, so I'm looking forward to it."
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Vesey, who had 27 points (16 goals, 11 assists) in 80 games in his first NHL season, will start the playoffs on the second line with center Mika Zibanejad and right wing Rick Nash. He's hoping the three can find ways to produce against Canadiens goalie Carey Price.
"I think we've played together quite a bit lately, and with the exception of maybe one game, I think we've been really good and created a lot of offense," Vesey said. "I think there seems to be some chemistry developing in practice, so hopefully we can bring it all together [Wednesday] and in the first round."
As expected, not everything was rosy for Vesey in his rookie season. He went 10 games without a goal from Jan. 3-25 and fought through a 14-game drought from Feb. 19 through March 17. But coach Alain Vigneault said he believes Vesey is ready to contribute at the most crucial time.
"A lot like Chris Kreider's first year, there's a rookie coming in the lineup playing a big role, playing big minutes," Vigneault said. "Jimmy is getting this opportunity. I think it's normal for a younger player to go through ups and downs during the season. Jimmy's been through, like all our players, has been through championship games at another level. He's been in big moments, he's handled them real well, and our whole group is very confident that he's going to play real well for us here as we move forward."
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Vesey said the ups and downs of his first NHL regular season will help him now.
"I think it was good," the 23-year-old said. "It's a long season, like everyone knows. It has its ups and downs, but I think I managed it pretty well. I played some stretches of really good hockey and had some lulls in the process, but I think I'm a better player because of that. I'm hoping to take that experience into the playoffs."
Zibanejad was limited to 56 games in his first season with the Rangers because of a broken leg, but he's healthy entering the playoffs and said he is excited to have Vesey on his left side.
"He has a scoring touch," Zibanejad said. "He knows his way out there in the offensive zone. He's a skilled guy, can make plays. I'll try to use him and Nash as much as I can and then try to distribute the puck as much as I can."
Vesey said he is well aware of how raucous the atmosphere will be at Bell Centre on Wednesday. Some might find it intimidating, but Vesey sounded as though he will embrace an opportunity he's been waiting for his whole life.
"I think it's going to be a great experience for me," Vesey said. "Going to Montreal, a pretty electric atmosphere. They love their hockey. It's a little bit of a rivalry, so I'm excited."