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Stepan On Playoff Milestone; Nash 'Fine' for Game 4

Plus projected lineup against Senators

by Matt Calamia @MattCalamia / NYRangers.com

Derek Stepan is a month shy of his 27th birthday, but you wouldn't know that based on playoff experience.

The career-Ranger became the franchise's all-time lead in games play by a forward on Tuesday night when he passed Walt Tkaczuk with his 96th appearance in the postseason. He's currently 36th among active forwards, ahead of Alex Ovechkin, Zach Parise and Ryan Kesler. 

Since Stepan entered the league at the start of the 2010-11 season, just two skaters - including defensemen - have appeared in more playoff games than No. 21. 

"It's really cool," Stepan said of the milestone. "I've been fortunate enough to be a part of some great hockey teams. To be on a list - an Original Six organization - on top of a list is really cool. It's something that I'll keep real close to my heart for a long time." 

Stepan has been a key part of this era of Rangers success. He's appeared in three Eastern Conference Finals and the team's run to the 2014 Stanley Cup Final. And, of course, the 2016-17 Rangers have aspirations to keep playing long into May and June.

The 2008 second-round pick became an alternate captain at the start of the 2014-15 season, and has since been a key component this team's leadership core.

Head coach Alain Vigneault said Stepan's voice is important inside the dressing room and to the coaching staff, who view the leadership group as an extension of the staff.

"He's definitely grown since I've been here in the four years that I've had him," Vigneault said of Stepan. "He's become a very vocal voice in our dressing room, and the right kind of voice. He's really an extension of the culture that we've tried to create since we've been here, the coaching staff. When we're not around, he's preaching the same message and the same values. He's been a real positive influence in our dressing room."

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Forward Rick Nash did not practice on Wednesday after being given a maintenance day. Vigneault had said he expected the winger - who scored in Game 3 - to skate with the team's extras prior to Game 4, but that did not happen. The coach, though, said Nash is "fine" for tonight's game.

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There's no denying momentum changes within a game. But within a series? Stepan is not so sure.

"I tread so carefully with momentum going from game to game. I don't know if there is such a thing," Stepan said. "I think there's definitely momentum within games that you can grab a hold of and have against you sometimes. I don't know if there's momentum from game to game. I don't know if I believe that. Some people do. I'm not sure I'm a big believer in it."

Vigneault said he was not concerned with whether momentum carries over from game to game. All he and his team can control is how it plays against a team it expects to have more fire than it had 48 hours ago.

"I feel we're totally focused on the process we need to apply on the ice tonight to have success," he said. "We know what we need to do when we don't have the puck. We know what we need to do with the puck. 

"I think momentum - there's momentum shifts during periods, during games," he added. "When you have it you try and keep it, when you don't you have it you try and get it back as quick as you can."

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While Vigneault did not confirm anything in regards to the lineup, it appears he'll be sticking with the lineup he deployed in Tuesday's Game 3 victory. That means Tanner Glass would remain in the lineup while Pavel Buchnevich would be a healthy scratch.

Vigneault said some of the thinking in regards to making the change prior to Game 3 is familiarity, as well as his experience inside the dressing room.

"Before that game when we made that decision, we were coming back home," Vigneault stated. "We know also that Tanner in the dressing room with his experiences is a good voice, a positive voice, and we felt we needed that. We knew what we were going to get on the ice. He went out and did exactly what we expected."

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Rangers projected lineup

Jimmy Vesey - Derek Stepan - Rick Nash
Chris Kreider - Mika Zibanejad - Mats Zuccarello
Michael Grabner - Kevin Hayes - Jesper Fast
Tanner Glass - Oscar Lindberg - J.T. Miller

Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi
Brady Skjei - Brendan Smith
Marc Staal - Nick Holden

Henrik Lundqvist
Antti Raanta

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