GREENBURGH, N.Y. — With Henrik Lundqvist declaring himself good to go, the Rangers lineup was locked in for Wednesday night’s Game 1 of the first-round series of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Whether they will be strong enough to topple the red-hot Penguins in the best-of-seven is another matter.
“I don’t think a lot of people are picking us, which is fine and dandy,” Alain Vigneault said Tuesday. “Let’s go out and play.”
Before flying to Pittsburgh, Lundqvist said he was over a brief illness that forced him to leave practice Monday. Dan Girardi, who missed the last two games of the regular season with an upper-body injury, practiced with Marc Staal, signaling the return of the defense pair that will be matched against a line centered by the potent Sidney Crosby.
Defenseman Ryan McDonagh, believed to have a small fracture in his right hand, joined teammates late in practice in a non-contact jersey, but he won’t dress for Game 1. Vigneault said there was a chance the team captain could play “at some point in the series.”
In his place, rookie Brady Skjei, 21, will make his NHL playoff debut and be paired with righthander Dan Boyle. Vigneault said he chose Skjei partly because of his skating ability but also because he is a lefty and Dylan McIlrath is a righty. The comfort level is higher, he said, when a player is used in his natural position. Keith Yandle and Kevin Klein will be the other pair.
The lines also are set: Chris Kreider-Derek Stepan-Rick Nash; J.T. Miller-Derick Brassard-Mats Zuccarello; Eric Staal-Kevin Hayes-Jesper Fast and Tanner Glass-Dominic Moore-Viktor Stalberg.
To beat the Penguins, who won the season series 3-1, Nash said: “It’s simple. You have to outwork them.” Brassard agreed, saying, “We have to be more hungry than them.”
Lundqvist said he was “pretty close to 100 percent,” and planned to face some shots Wednesday morning at CONSOL Energy Center for a final tuneup. “You just want to go out there and get a good start,” he said. “It’s a fun time of the year but it’s also a time when the pressure adds up.”
Asked about his 7-1 playoff record in the Penguins’ arena, Lundqvist said: “I think it’s a team thing. You go in there, and you know it’s a great team. The focus needs to be really good. You try to answer the bell every time you face great teams, great players.”
The Penguins, who had three more points (104) than the Rangers, are unsettled in goal. Coach Mike Sullivan said that No. 1 goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, out since March 31 with concussion symptoms, is day to day. If Fleury does not start, Jeff Zatkoff will get the call.
After practicing, Fleury said he felt “pretty good” but that there were issues “timing-wise and with technique. It’ll get better, but we don’t have that much time. I have to talk with the doctors again. There’s no setback, it’s a progression. You can practice all you want, but [a game] is never the same.” Fleury said that after injuries, the tough parts are “reaction time, picking up pucks, rebounds, reading plays.”
Notes & quotes: McIlrath and F Oscar Lindberg will be healthy scratches in Game 1 . . . The Rangers’ power-play units will be Yandle, Brassard, Kreider, Stepan, Zuccarello and Skjei, Boyle, Miller, Eric Staal, Nash . . . Oft-injured D Raphael Diaz is expected to play with Hartford on Wednesday, and how he fares will determine whether he is called up as an eighth defenseman, Vigneault said . . . Sullivan said defenseman Olli Maatta is a gametime decision.