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Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Rangers practice notebook: Bringing the energy, new mustaches and more love for the fans

By Matt Ehalt

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- It sounds so simple, but made such a difference. Following the Rangers' Game 3 win against the Capitals Sunday, the players credited their energetic start as a key point in helping them grab their first game in the series.

With Game 4 on deck Wednesday night at 7 p.m. at the Garden, the Rangers are focused on making sure they once again bring the energy and hard-hitting play right from the start as they try to even the series at 2-2.

“We got to raise our bar again, we know they’re going to come back and they’re going to be ready to play and ready to play hard,” forward Brandon Dubinsky said. “We have to be ready to match or beat their work ethic and be prepared ourselves.”

While the Rangers didn’t score a goal in the first period of Game 3, they believe that an inspired effort helped galvanize them for the rest of the game. The team came out with energy, played hard and made hits as they set the tone early.

Forward Erik Christensen said that in the team’s video session, he and his teammates saw effective forechecking and that when they finished their hits, they came up with the puck, sometimes leading to aggressive plays at the net. He said there were plenty of clips of the team being physical.

A key role in that energetic start was the play from the line of Sean Avery-Brandon Prust-Brian Boyle, which Rangers coach John Tortorella specifically mentioned as a catalyst for the team. Boyle echoed Dubinsky’s belief that the team has to match the intensity the Capitals will bring as they try to avoid dropping two straight.

“We gotta really bring it for Game 4 and sustain it. It’s really easy to get up for a playoff game, the crowd’s going nuts, everyone’s going nuts, but to sustain it is tough,” Boyle said. “You have to keep your head about you but to keep playing with that energy is something we can do and that’s what our gameplan is. We just have to go out and do it.”

THEY LIKE THEIR FANS: A new group of Rangers commented Tuesday on Washington coach Bruce Boudreau’s claim that Madison Square Garden’s reputation exceeds the actual experience and the fans don’t get that loud during the game. Just like Monday, the Rangers didn’t fire back any shots, instead just commending their fans.

“I heard about it but I don’t have anything to say about it,” goalie Henrik Lundqvist said. “We all had a great time playing at home and it was loud enough for us and I said after the game that it was a great feeling to be back in the playoffs, play at home in New York and feel the atmosphere and the excitement and we definitely feed from that and we’re going to feel that again tomorrow.”

Added Dubinsky: “I don’t care. It’s that time of year when we have to focus on playing. Us as players, we love playing here at home and we feel like our fans are the best and the most passionate, so I guess everyone is entitled to their own opinion.”

THE MUSTACHETEERS: There’s a third member of the Playoff Mustache Club: defenseman Brian McCabe. The veteran sported a new mustache with handlebars during practice Tuesday morning, joining Boyle and Dubinsky.

“It worked for Dubi so I told him if we had a good game and won I’d do it too,” McCabe said. “Man of my word.”

The players who have not grown mustaches seem to be having a good time laughing at their teammates' new facial hair. Lundqvist said Dubinsky’s mustache is “so bad it’s good” and called it one of the uglier mustaches he’s seen. Tortorella called them “those silly mustaches.”

Dubinsky was just pleased to see a new member of the club.

“I told (McCabe) to get rid of the handlebars. I think just the regular mustache is where it’s at but he insisted on the handlebars so I’m just happy he jumps on board,” Dubinsky said. “I guess it’s my plea for everyone to jump on board, get a muzzy. It’s the cool thing to do and it’s a lot of fun.”

MAKE OR BREAK?: As much as it was important for the Rangers to finally get one game in this series, it might be even more important for the team to get Game 4. Were the Rangers to lose tomorrow, they’d be down 3-1. As cliché as it may sound, there’s a huge difference between 3-1 and 2-2 in the series, and Boyle recognized that.

“This is the biggest game so far. Big stage and it seems like everything is getting more intense,” Boyle said. “We’re trying to get better, they’re trying to get better, seems like each game is ramped up. It’s a huge game for us and we know they’re trying to get at us and win one in our building. We want to even the series.”

ZUCCARELLO TO AHL: Tortorella explained to reporters Tuesday about the decision to send rookie Mats Zuccarello down to the AHL affiliate Connecticut Whale. He said the team is confident with its lineup right now, which included Avery over Zuccarello for the last two games of the playoffs, and the team has to keep an eye on allowing Zuccarello to develop. The Whale is currently in the playoffs, so the rookie will get to play in those games.

“To [not] skate Zucc every day here is counterproductive to him when he could be playing in the American League playoffs,” Tortorella said. “That’s part of the process for him. He’s doing some really good things for us here but we have to find exactly what he is as we continue growing as a hockey club here.”