Cross Checks: Alain Vigneault

There's something to be said about whether you're a person who views life as a glass half full or a glass half empty.

There's been much talk in New York of late about why the Rangers have been inconsistent so far this season, and we're not here to say they haven't been.

But I would suggest the Rangers deserve credit for just keeping their heads above water over the opening quarter of the season when you consider their blue-line injuries.

You're talking about a team that went nearly all of November without star captain Ryan McDonagh and went five weeks after the opening game of the season without Dan Boyle, missed John Moore for five games while he was suspended, while Kevin Klein also missed a pair of games. There were long stretches when just Marc Staal and Dan Girardi were regulars on defense.

To put it in perspective, when it comes to missing McDonagh and Boyle for that long, consider how you think the Montreal Canadiens would have fared without P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov for the same length of time, even if the Boyle and McDonagh injuries overlapped for only two weeks.

[+] EnlargeMartin St. Louis
AP Photo/Matt SlocumMartin St. Louis has helped keep the Rangers in the discussion.
So, for the Rangers to have kept themselves a sliver over .500 during the opening quarter can easily be seen as an impressive show of survival, their season still very much alive and not shot down like a few other teams who couldn't overcome injuries early this season.

With McDonagh and Boyle both in the lineup Friday afternoon in Philadelphia, the captain's first game back since suffering a shoulder injury Nov. 1, you saw a glimpse of what we should see more of from the Blueshirts moving forward.

They handled a fragile Flyers team rather easily Friday, Boyle scoring his second goal in his past two games to open things up, Martin St. Louis getting career point No. 1,000 on his ninth goal of the season in the second period and Rick Nash crushing the Flyers' hopes with a short-handed goal in the third period.

Better things are ahead for Alain Vigneault's crew now that Boyle and McDonagh are both in the lineup at the same time. Count on it.

The Flyers? Oh, my.

This is a team playing like it is afraid to make a mistake. No confidence.

Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek are having terrific seasons, but otherwise, there are fingers to point all over the place on this roster.

More than 20 games into the season and the Flyers are still trying to define their identity which to me is frightening for a team that should be better.

"I think our biggest issue has been our consistency," Flyers GM Ron Hextall told ESPN.com over the phone Friday evening. "You look at the Detroit game the other night, we played very well in the first period, and very well in the third period, albeit from behind, but the second period we played poorly. If we played 60 like we did 40, we would have won the game. Our consistency has been an issue game to game, period to period and at times even shift to shift."

The players have already been reamed out by Hextall, they've had a players-only meeting, what's next?

One would think likely a trade or two. I don't think Hextall can afford to wait much longer before acting.

But he's preaching patience, saying he won't make a move for the sake of it.

"We're not looking for a short-term fix," Hextall said. "We're looking for today and tomorrow but also for the future. So, we're not going to do something short-term that’s going to hurt us down the road.

"In saying that, if something is there that makes sense, we're certainly going to look at it. There's been more talk lately [with other teams], but nothing that makes sense for us at this point."

Before we ended the phone call, Hextall wanted to stress one last thing.

"On paper, our team is better than our record," he said. "But at some point we have to pick it up and get going here. And I think it comes down to the individuals playing better and coming together as a team. There's more in our room than we're getting. But we need to find it in a hurry."
Matt GreeneAP Photo/Jae C. HongThe Rangers are down but not out after letting Game 1 get away.
LOS ANGELES -- With his team now trailing 1-0 in the Stanley Cup finals, New York Rangers coach Alain Vigneault issued a clear, unwavering message to his squad, perceived by many as the underdogs against the Los Angeles Kings.

What he saw Wednesday night was not good enough. Not even close.

“One thing that's real evident to me, and it should be to our whole group, is we're not going to beat this team if we do not all bring our A-game. It is that strong of an opponent that we're playing against,” Vigneault said in his press briefing Thursday from the team’s hotel in Santa Monica.

Vigneault lauded the 40-save performance by goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, but didn’t sound too enthused about the collective effort.

“We had [Lundqvist] that brought his A-game last night. We had a couple guys. I don't want to name who I think brought their A-game. But our B-game won't do it,” Vigneault said. “We're not going to win if we bring our B-game to the table."

[+] EnlargeAlain Vigneault
Juan Ocampo/NHLI/Getty ImagesVigneault watched in disbelief as the Rangers blew Game 1.
Though the Rangers had a strong first period on the road, the team’s dominant play tapered off as the game went on, with the third period a particularly glaring display of lopsided action.

With the game tied at 2, the Kings controlled the period, outshooting the Rangers 20-3 and holding New York without a shot for the first 11:43 of play.

“They had great gap in the third, really took away a lot of our options, forced us to spend time in our zone, forced us to change when we actually got the puck out as opposed to being able to go on the forecheck and make them change,” said defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who played a team-leading 31:12 in the series opener.

The Rangers seemed to surprise the Kings with their speed -- in fact, Game 1 hero Justin Williams admitted as much in his postgame interviews -- as both Carl Hagelin and Benoit Pouliot raced in on breakaways to score on Kings netminder Jonathan Quick to jump out to a 2-0 lead, but they were caught chasing the play far too much in the final 20 minutes.

“I think in the first period we did a great job of using our speed, getting pucks deep, also getting pucks at the net, which gave us some offensive time, a couple faceoffs in the offensive zone,” Hagelin said. “In the third we had way too many turnovers, didn't get deep enough in their zone. They're a good team. If you give them time to skate with the puck, time to spend a lot of time in our end, they're going to do a good job.”

The Rangers got a taste of the Kings' unrelenting, physical game even if it took a while for L.A. to get going. Nothing about that came as a surprise, Vigneault insisted. The Rangers were anticipating having their hands full.

“Everything that I expected, everything that we had talked to our players about, about what to expect, they did it down to a T,” Vigneault said. “They keep doing it. They stay with it. They don't deviate. It's tough to exploit any areas because they're that good.”

In fact, Vigneault singled out the Kings as superior to any other team the Rangers have faced this postseason, which included the likes of the Philadelphia Flyers, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Montreal Canadiens.

Each of those three clubs offered something a little different. The Flyers were physical. The Penguins were skilled. The Habs were extremely structured.

The Kings, it seems, have it all.

“They're one of the best teams I've seen in a long time,” Vigneault said. “Areas to exploit, they don't jump out at you. We're going to have to be better than we were.”
This is the opportunity Henrik Lundqvist has been waiting for.

The chance to win his first Stanley Cup since emerging as the No. 1 goaltender for the New York Rangers during his rookie season in 2005-06.

“It means a lot,” Lundqvist said Friday during an interview on ESPN New York 98.7 FM’s “The Michael Kay Show.” “I was gonna say, ‘Everything,’ but there’s so much about this team that I enjoy, and the ride to get here. The entire year it’s just so much fun to play and to win, and to get to know teammates. ... But when it comes down to it, of course you want to win, there’s no question about it. To get this opportunity in the finals here, to get a crack at it, it’s exciting. And now I’m spending the next couple days just enjoying it and getting away from the game a little bit and then just focusing on the next challenge here.”

The Rangers certainly wouldn’t be in this position -- four wins away from capturing hockey’s Holy Grail -- without Lundqvist. During the playoffs, he has posted a 12-7 record with a 2.03 goals-against average and a .928 save percentage. In Thursday night’s 1-0 series-clinching victory over the Montreal Canadiens at Madison Square Garden, Lundqvist broke the franchise record for postseason wins (42), and tied Mike Richter for the top spot in postseason shutouts (nine). The 32-year-old, who was selected by the team in the seventh round of the 2000 NHL draft (No. 205 overall), has done everything for the franchise -- except produce a title.

“It feels good. It feels better and better actually,” Lundqvist said. “It’s very exciting. Nine years in New York. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, so it’s a great feeling to finally be here.”

Lundqvist said the best congratulatory text message he got was from his good friend John McEnroe, who is currently doing television work at the French Open in Paris.

“He’s a good friend and a big Ranger fan, so it’s good to have his support,” Lundqvist said.

To secure their first Stanley Cup since 1994, the Rangers are going to have to beat either the Chicago Blackhawks or the Los Angeles Kings. Those two teams meet Friday night in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals at Staples Center. The Kings lead the series, 3-2.

“It’s pick your poison,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said on "The Michael Kay Show" on Friday, when asked which team he’d prefer to face. “It’s last year’s Stanley Cup champs versus L.A., which won two years ago. Chicago’s probably a little more skilled. And even though they’re the top scoring team in the playoffs, the Kings are the bigger and better defensive team.”

Vigneault, who took over for John Tortorella behind the Rangers bench prior to this season, feels it took his team longer than he expected to adapt to his style of play -- in part because of a challenging training camp. But they turned things around in the second half of the regular season, and now, as their coach said, “We get a chance to compete for the Cup.”

Vigneault’s team has thrived in the playoffs because of its ability to deploy any of its four lines and three defense pairings at any juncture of the game. Also, the Rangers look unbeatable when leading after two periods, having gone a perfect 10-0 so far in the postseason. Lundqvist has allowed just eight goals in the third period during the playoffs in 20 games.

Vigneault said he texted his good friend Michel Thierren following the Rangers' defeat of the Canadiens in Game 6 on Thursday, and told the Montreal coach he should be proud of the job he did. Vigneault plans to call Thierren in a couple days, allowing him a little time to get over the agony of elimination following a deep run. The two had clashed via the media during the series, leading many to speculate that their friendship may have frayed.

Vigneault said his two daughters, Andreane and Janie, were in the stands at the Garden on Thursday and told their father it was “one of the most unreal experiences they’ve had.”

The best text messages Vigneault received, he said, were from his parents, who are 80 years old. They are glad the Montreal series is finally over, Vigneault added.

The next series -- the one that looms against either the Blackhawks or Kings -- will be the biggest one of them all.
MSG Network NHL analyst (and former Blueshirt) Martin Biron thinks New York Rangers coach Alain Vigneault made the right decision to stick with backup goaltender Cam Talbot after the coach pulled starter Henrik Lundqvist in the second period Tuesday night.

With the Rangers trailing the Montreal Canadiens 4-1 in Game 5 at Bell Centre, Vigneault decided to replace Lundqvist with Talbot. The Rangers countered with three straight goals to tie the game at 4. At that point, many hoped Vigneault would go back to Lundqvist, but the coach elected against it.

New York ultimately lost to Montreal 7-4. The Rangers lead the Canadiens 3-2 in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference finals. Game 6 is Thursday night at Madison Square Garden.

Biron explained his reasoning during an interview on ESPN New York 98.7 FM's “The Michael Kay Show” on Wednesday afternoon.

“I think they made the right decision; really, it was the only decision,” Biron said. “When you’ve pulled your starter for the backup in the second period, and it’s a situation like this, at 4-1, you’re kinda telling [him], ‘Listen, just go relax. Do whatever you gotta do to get ready for Game 6, because this one, if we win it, it’s a bonus. We’re just gonna try to change something, and we know Talbot has played well in Montreal, so it’s a situation where he can come in and give us a few saves and let’s see if he can get us back in the game.'

“Now what I thought was interesting is because of where Talbot is [relative to the bench], it’s hard for the coach to tell him you’re going in the net; so he’s across the bench in Montreal, he’s not sitting on the bench, so now it takes about a minute, a minute-and-a-half, almost two minutes after they scored their fourth goal to get Lundqvist out of the net. Now I started thinking to myself, ‘What if the Rangers score a goal and they make it 4-2, do you pull Lundqvist?’ Because Talbot’s already getting his equipment, and the answer was, yes, you still pull him because it’s not his night, it’s not the team’s night, so let’s try to change the momentum. And I thought the same frame of mind is coming from me [in terms of sticking with Talbot] for the third period; that’s why I thought it was the right decision to keep Lundqvist away and let him get ready for Game 6.”

Biron, who used to serve as Lundqvist’s backup, knows better than anyone how difficult it is on a goalie to get pulled from the net. A goaltender will check out mentally, and there was no reason for the Rangers to risk injury in this instance.

“Some people don’t understand; they say, ‘He’s their No. 1 goalie, he should be ready to go in whenever you’re asked to.’ But goalies are totally different. You get so mentally focused to play at the start of the game. If they pull you, it’s like the steam comes out of the kettle. You just have to sit and think about the next game, and that’s what he was doing.”

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, here are Lundqvist's stats in games following a game in which he was pulled:

2013-14 regular season: 3 games, 3 starts, 2-1 record, 3.57 GAA, .879 SV%
Career regular season: 17 games, 17 starts, 12-3-2, 2.41 GAA, .914 SV%

2014 playoffs: 1 game, 1 start, 1-0, 1.00 GAA, .963 SV%
Career playoffs: 3 games, 3 starts, 1-2 record, 3.00 GAA, .887 SV%
MONTREAL -- There will be plenty to mull for the New York Rangers in the next 48 hours before Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals. A wild, wide-open 7-4 loss to the Montreal Canadiens in Game 5 left plenty of questions to be answered.

How did the team’s notoriously stingy structure simply disappear? How does this loss change the complexion of the series? Can the Rangers still close out the Habs?

But one question that will be turned over and scrutinized and nitpicked by many in the wake of the team’s disheartening defeat will be the one coach Alain Vigneault made with his team trailing by a goal, 5-4, heading into the third period.

SportsNation

Should Henrik Lundqvist have started the third period of the Rangers' Game 5 loss?

  •  
    52%
  •  
    48%

Discuss (Total votes: 3,544)

Vigneault pulled Henrik Lundqvist midway through the second period, a move no one will second-guess after the Rangers goaltender surrendered four goals on the first 18 shots he faced. But with replacement Cam Talbot in net, the Rangers rallied back from a 4-1 deficit, tying the game before Rene Bourque scored his second goal of the night to give Montreal a 5-4 edge heading into intermission.

Many wondered: With the game now within reach, will he go back to his star?

He did not.

After the game, he said he never even considered the possibility.

All he offered on the decision was a simple “no.”

In his defense, Lundqvist never quite appeared dialed in Tuesday night. With the Rangers becoming unhinged in the second period, Vigneault yanked the usually steady Swede at 8:58 of the frame in an effort to spark a change with his struggling club.

And it worked, temporarily.

“I pulled him because I thought we needed a little momentum shift and I thought it might catch everybody’s attention,” Vigneault said after the game. “It did, for a while. Obviously, it didn’t work out.”

In relief, Talbot surrendered two goals on eight shots, both to Bourque, who led the Habs to victory with a hat trick. It wasn’t Talbot’s fault, nor Lundqvist’s really. Nothing could truly explain to the way the Rangers essentially abandoned their stingy playing style and instead opted to go run-and-gun with skilled, speedy Habs.

“The game just got out of whack, both ways,” veteran Brad Richards said.

But, people will wonder. Oh yes, people will scrutinize that decision and say, "What if Lundqvist had played? Would the outcome have been different?"

From the sounds of it, however, Lundqvist did not fight Vigneault’s decision and angle his way back into action for the third period. He seemed to welcome the mental relief.

“It was better to keep Talbot in there -- for me to get a little break there and start thinking about the next one,” said Lundqvist. “Of course, I was hoping for us to get back in the game and get close. But now we’re going home for a Game 6 at home, and it’s going to be exciting and a great challenge for us.”

Lundqvist will have a full two days to shake the nagging memory of that long skate of shame across the Bell Centre ice, a surface that, until this series, has not been historically kind to the former Vezina Trophy winner.

Maybe there are some lingering doubts still about the demons that exist in this building. Bourque even suggested that Lundqvist has been the inferior of the two goaltenders.

“Everybody talks about how he’s a great goalie,” Bourque said, fanning the flames of a series that has already grown quite nasty. “Has he been better than Ticker [Dustin Tokarski] this series? I don’t think so.”

But don’t forget the last time he got pulled in the playoffs, either. He got the hook back in the team’s first-round series against the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 6 and responded just fine. He came back in Game 7 to make 26 saves on 27 shots, leading the Rangers on to the next round.

There will be no doubt that Lundqvist will be back between the pipes when the Rangers return to New York to host the Habs in Game 6, with a chance to close out the series again, this time at home. Vigneault confirmed Lundqvist is not injured.

Though Talbot has proven himself to be a more-than-capable backup, Lundqvist has played like a world-beater this spring. He gives this Rangers team the best chance to win.

Maybe Vigneault didn’t think so Tuesday night, but with a stinging loss to decipher, that will remain a topic up for debate.
MONTREAL -- The New York Rangers did not shrink away from the spotlight when it came to test their mettle in the NHL’s most daunting, raucous road venue Saturday afternoon. No, the Rangers finally put to bed the notion that the Bell Centre was their own personal house of horrors as they stifled a boisterous crowd and sent fans scrambling for the exits in a commanding 7-2 rout of the Montreal Canadiens in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals.

Despite having recorded just one win in their last 10 games in the arena, revered for its rabid crowd and ample acoustics, the Rangers dispatched the Habs with ease, jumping out to an early 2-0 lead and chasing goaltender Carey Price from net after the second period in their fourth consecutive playoff win.

That stunned silence that settled over the crowd must have felt like music to their ears.

[+] EnlargeMartin St. Louis
Bruce Bennett/Getty ImagesMartin St. Louis had an emotional homecoming.
“I wish we could play every game here,” said veteran center Brad Richards, whose goal with less than 12 seconds remaining in the second period served as the dagger for both Price and the Habs. “It’s a great building.”

The Rangers had a little bit of everything in their series-opening victory in Montreal, including yet another huge moment for second-round series hero Martin St. Louis.

St. Louis, who inspired his entire Rangers team when he returned to play in Game 5 last week just one day following the death of his mother, scored the game’s first goal just 4:35 into play, converting a beautiful feed from fourth-line center Dominic Moore.

It’s an emotional homecoming for St. Louis, considering the last time he was here was last Thursday, when he flew home from Pittsburgh to grieve with his family. The St. Louis family will host the entire Rangers team as they attend the funeral for France St. Louis, who died of a heart attack at age 63, on Sunday.

About 10 to 12 of the Rangers went to her wake Friday night in what continues to be an emotional week for St. Louis and his family. Coach Alain Vigneault even texted the 38-year-old veteran afterward, just to make sure he was doing OK.

“It’s been very emotional for our whole group, and he’s handled it in an incredible way that has probably helped our team come closer together,” Vigneault said.

St. Louis appeared elated after the goal, and after the game, he discussed how grateful he is to have the support he has received over the last nine days.

“The guys are behind me and supporting me, and their effort was unbelievable,” he said. “We feel really close right now and we're trying to keep feeding off that.”

St. Louis was named the game’s first star -- and a huge stick tap to the Bell Centre crowd here, for even a disgruntled Habs fan base cheered him heartily after their team lost -- but there were so many for the Rangers who chipped in for the type of resounding win that is sure to keep the team’s confidence chugging along.

Moore, who is no stranger to heartbreak himself after losing wife, Katie, to a rare form of liver cancer last year, was absolutely sensational in the opening frame. He made two jaw-dropping feeds to set up the Rangers’ first two goals, helping build a critical 2-0 lead that put the hapless Habs on their heels.

The Blueshirts were 3-for-7 on power plays in Game 1.

Rick Nash finally scored his first goal of the 2014 playoffs, defenseman Ryan McDonagh finished with one goal and three assists, and goaltender Henrik Lundqvist continued his dominant play.

Lundqvist, who has posted a 1.25 GAA and .961 save percentage in the last four games, may even get a respite now from those persisting questions about his struggles at Bell Centre, where, before Saturday, he had not played in more than two years. He had not won a game in the building since 2009.

“I don’t know if you’ve seen him play the past few weeks," Brian Boyle said, “but he’s been on another planet.”

The entire Rangers team played pretty otherworldly Saturday, outskating the Habs from start to finish. It just may be that Montreal has not faced an opponent yet this postseason that boasts the same sort of threatening speed element as the Habs. On Saturday, they did not handle that well.

“We got our asses kicked all over the ice,” Habs forward Rene Bourque told reporters after the game, also calling it Montreal’s “worst playoff game by far.”

The Rangers were expecting to carry over the type of inspired, purposeful play that allowed them to overcome a 3-1 series deficit and upset the Pittsburgh Penguins in Round 2, but it would have been hard to imagine such a drubbing, especially against one of the best goaltenders thus far this postseason.

Price, who did not speak after the game, was pulled after surrendering four goals on 20 shots. He was replaced by backup goaltender Peter Budaj, though Budaj couldn’t do too much to stop the onslaught, either.

"Yeah, I'd say surprised,” defenseman Marc Staal said about the Rangers’ seven goals against Montreal. “Not surprised in the way we played and the way we wanted to play.

"We had a great start to the game, set that tempo right from the beginning, and were able to convert on a couple, which is big in a road rink, especially here," Staal said. "We were able to carry that through."
MONTREAL -- The New York Rangers will be making their second Eastern Conference finals appearance in the past three seasons when they square off against the Montreal Canadiens to start Round 3 on Saturday afternoon. The Habs have home-ice advantage, however, and the Bell Centre -- one of hockey’s most raucous and intimidating venues -- has not been historically kind to the Blueshirts. The Rangers have won only one of the past 10 games in Montreal, but they hope to reverse their fortune in the postseason.

Respect factor: A few different Canadiens players felt they were "disrespected" by the favored Boston Bruins in the two clubs’ second-round series, but that won’t be the case when they clash with the Rangers for a best-of-seven set that decides who will advance to the 2014 Stanley Cup finals. As Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said Friday in advance of the series opener, "We respect Montreal quite a bit." That sort of diplomacy from Vigneault, who also called the Habs "favorites" in the series, isn’t surprising considering he got his start as a head coach in Montreal back in 1997. He is close with Montreal head coach Michel Therrien, so don’t expect the same sort of pointed barbs between the two coaches that we all witnessed with Therrien and Bruins coach Claude Julien.

Ghostbusters: Prior to the Rangers’ first regular-season game in Montreal this season, Vigneault felt the need to dispel any myths surrounding the team’s ominous record at Bell Centre. According to veteran center Brad Richards, Vigneault cracked a joke to the team, assuring it there are "no ghosts" in the building and that they were fully capable of leaving Montreal with a win. Turns out, he was right, as backup netminder Cam Talbot recorded his first NHL shutout against the Habs in Montreal on Nov. 16, snapping an eight-game losing streak. Can Henrik Lundqvist exorcise the demons as well? The former Vezina Trophy winner has not played in the building since Jan. 12 but has been stellar so far this postseason for the Rangers.

Nash slump: Rangers winger Rick Nash has yet to score a goal during the 2014 playoffs, and you can bet that the dispiriting skid has taken its toll on the big-money man. Nash has played well away from the puck and has been an effective penalty killer, but that doesn’t change the fact that he has not been able to find the back of the net. He has scored only one playoff goal in two seasons as a Blueshirt, though he said his scoring woes are made manageable by the fact that the team is still winning. Said Nash: "The team’s big picture is way bigger than my individual struggles."

Heavy heart: Martin St. Louis returns to his native Montreal for the first time since he made an impromptu visit last Thursday after learning of his mother’s sudden death. France St. Louis died of a heart attack at age 63 last week, a tragic loss that rocked St. Louis and his Rangers teammates. St. Louis returned to play just one day after her death, however, a courageous decision that inspired the team and changed the course of its second-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The entire team will be on hand to attend France’s funeral, which will be a private service held in Montreal on Sunday.

Dangerous defenseman: The Rangers had to neutralize two of the game’s most talented tandem of forwards during Round 2, and now they will be tasked with containing the league’s most dynamic defenseman in Montreal’s P.K. Subban. The 25-year-old defenseman has had a sensational playoff run thus far with four goals and 12 points in 11 games for the Habs.

The New York Rangers will face the Montreal Canadiens in the Eastern Conference finals beginning on Saturday.

The Blueshirts’ opponent was settled after Montreal’s 3-1 win over the Boston Bruins in Game 7 on Wednesday night in Beantown. Though the Bruins were the heavy favorite, picked by many as the front-runner for the Stanley Cup Championship, the Habs stunned the home crowd with their series-ending victory.

This will be the first time the two clubs meet in a playoff series since 1996, when the Rangers dispatched the Canadiens in six games during the first round of the postseason.

What to make of the matchup?

Well, the Habs will have home-ice advantage and that doesn’t bode well for the Rangers.

New York has been atrocious at the Bell Centre in recent years, a troublesome eight-game losing streak that was only snapped when backup netminder Cam Talbot recorded his first NHL shutout back on Nov. 16.

Talbot also started the Rangers’ other regular-season game in Montreal this season. With a postseason berth already secured for the Rangers, coach Alain Vigneault opted to rest some of his starters, including Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh, Martin St. Louis and Henrik Lundqvist in the final game before the postseason.

Prior to that, the Rangers had been shutout five times in eight games against the Habs in hostile territory.

Game 1 of the series falls on Saturday, 1 p.m. at the Bell Centre, with Game 2 tentatively slated for Monday evening. The series will then shift back to Madison Square Garden for Games 3 and 4 next week.

Beyond the Rangers’ conspicuous struggles at the Bell Centre, the Habs are probably the better matchup for New York. The Rangers struggled to go toe-to-toe with the Bruins physicality but the Canadiens embrace a similar identity to Vigneault’s Rangers’ squad, one that embraces speed, skill and depth.

The Habs have all of those things, plus the type of goaltender that will be a great challenge for Lundqvist. Though Lundqvist has been lights-out as of late, netminder Carey Price has also been terrific.

According to ESPN Stats & Information research, Price has stopped 149 of the last 151 shots faced from the Rangers.

Combine Price’s steadiness in net, Montreal’s skilled set of forwards and perhaps the most dynamic defensemen in the game in P.K. Subban, and you have a very dangerous team.

One league insider told ESPN.com recently that Subban was by far “the best playoff player” thus far this spring, and he lived up to the billing during the team’s second-round set against the Bruins.

The 25-year-old blue-liner, who has at times endured scrutiny for his defensive liabilities, has four goals and 12 points in 11 playoff games for the Habs this spring. His electricity, passion and confidence makes him one of the most compelling players to watch and one of the most dangerous threats on the ice.

Meanwhile, the Rangers are coming off an inspirational comeback from a 3-1 series deficit in their second-round set against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Though the team went through stretches where it appeared tired and ragged, the club has played its best hockey over the last three games.

Neither team was a front-runner for the Eastern Conference finals, but both the Rangers and the Habs appear to be the type of clubs peaking at the right time and playing with plenty of emotion.

Buckle up. This should be fun.


PITTSBURGH -- After the New York Rangers’ 3-2 overtime victory to take Game 1 in the team’s second-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, coach Alain Vigneault was asked about the impact of the team’s most productive line for much of this season -- the trio of Benoit Pouliot, Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello.

Vigneault said they have been the team’s most consistent trio since Christmas, that they have forged a palpable chemistry, that they were strong on the puck, aggressive on the forecheck ...

[Pause]

[+] EnlargeDerick Brassard
Gregory Shamus/NHLI/Getty ImagesThe Rangers celebrate after winning Game 1 in overtime.
“And they scored two [goals] in overtime,” Vigneault quipped as a nod to a wacky bang-bang sequence that ended the game.

Indeed, it was Brassard, whose shot that clanged off the crossbar and in (even though play continued), who was rightfully credited with the game winner. But even after signaling to officials that the puck went in, there was no whistle. With a scramble in front of Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury’s crease, Brassard connected with Pouliot for a goal that ended the game and rendered a restless crowd at CONSOL Energy Center silent.

Pouliot didn’t even find out that Brassard was credited with the deciding goal until his postgame television interview, but he wasn’t perturbed in the least. Pouliot had already notched his third goal of the playoffs earlier in the game; he didn’t care who ended up on the score sheet, just as long as the Rangers left the building with a win.

“It’s huge, especially in Pittsburgh. They’re such a great team,” Pouliot said. “You come in Pitt, the crowd’s behind them. You just played 48 hours ago. You never know what’s going to happen, but we scored two goals right away, kind of put them on their heels, then did the job in overtime.”

It was Pouliot’s marker that jump-started a terrific, textbook opening frame. He scored on a rather harmless wrist shot, but it was enough to make Fleury appear unhinged and the Rangers took notice. Later in the period, veteran center Brad Richards capitalized on a defensive miscue, putting one past Fleury while all alone in front.

But the game changed dramatically in the second period, as the Rangers failed to keep pushing and instead allowed the Penguins to climb right back into the match, building some equity with their disgruntled fan base and knotting the score 2-2 heading into the third period.

It might have been a necessary reminder to the Rangers that no lead is safe during these Stanley Cup Playoffs. It’s a lesson of which the Penguins are already keenly aware after blowing a pair of two-goal leads and dropping games as a result in their first-round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

“It’d be nice not to take a period off, but we’re fortunate that tonight we didn’t get hurt by it,” said defenseman Dan Girardi. “We ended up getting a win, but if we can take our first period and play 60 minutes like that I think we’ll be all right.”

The Rangers have done nothing more than win one game, but they have to take confidence in a few different things from Friday’s game. One, they did not play their best hockey and yet they still beat a Penguins team that boasts two of the league’s resident superstars in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Two, they were able to contain both players, holding both without a goal and Crosby off the score sheet entirely (Malkin finished with an assist on James Neal’s game-tying goal in the second period). Crosby finished the game with a minus-3 rating as well Lastly, their regular-season road prowess -- they set a franchise record with 25 wins away from home this year -- was no fluke. They can win games in hostile territory.

“We’re hungry for more wins,” said Brassard, whose winner was his first goal of the 2014 playoffs. “I think it’s going to be good for our confidence, just to show us that we can beat those guys.”

For as much as Brassard’s line has been critical to the team’s well-rounded scoring attack, the second defensive pairing of Marc Staal and Anton Stralman is also emerging as an unsung element key to the Rangers' success.

Though top-pair blueliners Ryan McDonagh and Girardi usually shoulder the yeoman’s work against opponents’ top lines, Staal and Stralman were vital in helping containing the likes of both the Crosby and the Malkin lines as well.

For his stout performance in 26:03 of ice time Friday night, Staal was awarded with the team’s MVP trophy hat.

“Just the way he keeps the game so simple,” Pouliot mused. “It’s something we talk about all the time. Marc will have that big block when we need a block or make that pass. He’s always going to be in position to help us. He’s got the longest stick on the team. It’s a pain to the opponent and he does a great job with that. I had to go with Marc because sometimes you don’t recognize that kind of play but us, us we do.”

Staal's and Stralman’s game has been so strong that it has enabled Vigneault to deploy his defensive pairings with confidence that the top four can compete against anything their opponents can throw at them.

“We’ve got two pretty good duos that we’re not afraid to match up against any line,” Vigneault said. “So it makes it easier on the road to get the match-ups you’re looking for.”

That bodes well for the Rangers, as does the fact that some of their top performers still have yet to reach optimal levels during the playoffs. Rick Nash has not scored yet. His entire line is capable of providing more Even goaltender Henrik Lundqvist hasn’t stolen a game.

But Lundqvist finished the night with 34 saves and made some superb stops to preserve the tie en route to recording his 35th playoff victory.

It doesn't matter who gets the credit. As long as the Rangers are winning, that's good enough.
NEW YORK -- New York Rangers coach Alain Vigneault did not call out any of his top players by name.

But if the Rangers are going to win their Game 7 matchup with the Flyers on Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden and advance to Round 2 of the Stanley Cup playoffs, Vigneault believes his team's highly paid stars need to outperform Philadelphia's.

[+] EnlargeRick Nash
Bruce Bennett/Getty ImagesSay it with us: The Rangers need more from Rick Nash in Game 7.
“Whatever happened in the past is behind us,” Vigneault said. “It’s one game, and it’s winner-take-all. I think it’s fair to say that whoever’s top players perform the best is probably the team that is going to win this game. We’ve got some good players. This is a great opportunity. Game 7, it doesn’t get a lot better than this. We’re going to be ready.”

While center Brad Richards ($6.7 million, six points) and right winger Martin St. Louis ($5.6 million, six points) have elevated their games throughout the series, left winger Rick Nash ($7.8 million, no goals) and defenseman Ryan McDonagh ($4.7 million, no points, minus-2) could be better.

“Rick is trying his best right now. He’s looking for holes, he’s protecting the puck,” Vigneault said. “He got a couple of good looks last night. [There’s] nothing he an do about the first six [games]. He’s got to focus tonight.”

As for McDonagh, Vigneault said, “He's obviously been our best defenseman all year. He's played some good hockey so far in this series, but I do believe there's another level. He needs to find that for us tonight.”

New York has quickly forgotten about its 5-2 loss to Philadelphia at Wells Fargo Center in Game 6 on Tuesday night.

“These opportunities only come around so often, and that's what we mean by embracing it,” said Richards, who is 3-0 in Game 7s as a Ranger, with one goal. “There's going to be some day when this whole team will be retired, and we'll be sitting back and wishing that we had another day like this where you could get ready for another big game like this in front of a sold-out Madison Square Garden in a must-win game. This is the greatest thing about what we do.”

Vigneault would not reveal if there would be any lineup changes.

“You’ll find out tonight,” he said.

New York goalie Henrik Lundqvist is 3-1 with a 1.00 goals-against average and a .963 save percentage in four career Game 7s.

SportsNation

Who will win Game 7 at the Garden?

  •  
    73%
  •  
    27%

Discuss (Total votes: 5,425)

The Rangers are 5-0 all-time in Game 7s at MSG, but the Flyers have won their past three.

“You’ve just got to go out and play,” Vigneault said. “You can’t overthink. You can’t overanalyze. They know us well, [and] we know them well. They’re going to go out and play, and we’re going to go out and play.”

New York is just 3-for-28 on the power play in the series (10.7 percent).

“Execution. That’s all it is,” Vigneault said.

Just about seven hours before the opening faceoff, the Rangers seemed ready and raring to go

“These are the games that you want to play when you’re a kid,” St. Louis said. “I’ve been fortunate to be in a few of them. They’re exciting.”

• Rangers center Dominic Moore was named one of three finalists for the Masterson Trophy, which exemplifies the qualities of sportsmanship, perseverance and dedication to hockey. New Jersey Devils right winger Jaromir Jagr and Carolina Hurricanes center Manny Malhotra are the others.

Moore left the NHL in the spring of 2012 to be with his wife Katie, who passed away from liver cancer at the age of 32. Moore would go on to establish a foundation in her name, come back and have a very successful season with the Rangers. He has notched two goals and an assist so far against the Flyers.

E:60's piece on Moore is a must-watch.
Alain Vigneault, John TortorellaGetty ImagesAlain Vigneault and John Tortorella have very different coaching styles.
NEW YORK -- Two years ago, the New York Rangers made it to the Eastern Conference finals playing a distinct, rugged brand of hockey that reflected the personality of their fiery coach, John Tortorella.

Now?

Tortorella’s sharp tongue and demanding system have been replaced by the more affable, even-keel Alain Vigneault. There are no epic outbursts or profane postgame tirades.

If Vigneault is outwardly aggressive about anything, it’s his overzealous gum-chewing behind the bench.

The two coaches are more or less polar opposites, and their brands of hockey indicate as much.

The Rangers are still a successful hockey club, but in an entirely different way now. Whereas Tortorella’s clubs were a bruising, blue-collar bunch whose strict adherence to shot-blocking bordered on religious, Vigneault’s squad embraces speed and skill and opportunism.

Shorter shifts, fresher legs and less line-matching have amounted to a winning strategy for the Rangers, who have done well at rolling a balanced four lines with the best NHL record since March 28.

“Some players are capable of playing big minutes and the more minutes they play, the better they are,” Vigneault told reporters Friday. “Some of the better players, though, if you get them past a point it seems their effectiveness on the ice drops. So you as a coach has to figure out as the season goes on and as the years go on: who can play more minutes and who can’t.”

In Vigneault’s first season as head coach, the Rangers also finished the regular season as one of the top six teams in important puck possession metrics like Corsi and Fenwick (according to ExtraSkater.com) and asserted themselves as such in their series opener against the Philadelphia Flyers Thursday night.

The Rangers gained a territorial edge early against the Flyers, pelting Flyers backup goaltender Ray Emery with pucks and testing his mobility post-to-post. They outshot Philadelphia by an overwhelming margin in the third -- 13-1. According to Elias Sports Bureau, it was the first time the Rangers allowed one shot or none in one period in a playoff game since May 7, 1994.

Defensively, they contained the Flyers' top line of Scott Hartnell, Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek, holding the latter two players without a shot on goal, and they stifled a threatening power play that ranked first overall in the league with a road success rate of 25.2 percent.

Essentially, they controlled all facets of the game.

“There was no other thought than to keep controlling the puck and keep trying to get it behind them,” said veteran center Brad Richards, who led the way in Game 1 with a goal and two assists.

Chasing the play frustrated the Flyers; it wore them down as well.

“When you’re chasing the puck for the majority of the game, you’re going to end up losing a lot of energy,” Hartnell said on a conference call with reporters Friday.

That leaves Flyers head coach Craig Berube with his work cut out for him. Berube said Friday that he planned on making some tweaks to his game plan, possibly to his lineup as well.

But the key to Philadelphia’s success is less about minutiae or tactics, and more about will.

“We need to play better with and without the puck and that to me involves skating. We need to skate better,” Berube said.

Berube said the Rangers overloaded against the Flyers in the corners, allowing them to win countless puck battles. That doesn’t happen if the team is skating as it should.

Nor will the Flyers have to revert to the dump-and-chase approach if they can get their legs moving and activate from the back end.

“We make better plays coming out of our end and we will carry the puck in more,” Berube said. “It didn’t seem like we made very good plays coming out of our end. Our D wasn’t active on the rush. We basically had no choice but to put the puck in deep because we didn’t have numbers on the rush.”

The Rangers will likely try to execute the exact same game plan on Sunday afternoon, a strategy of which the Flyers are well aware.

Now it’s up to Philadelphia to adjust with the potential of a 2-0 series hole looming.

“We all know we can play better,” Hartnell said. “We just have to focus and get our energy back.”

Goalie controversy in New York?

December, 2, 2013
12/02/13
2:19
PM ET
Cam Talbot and Henrik Lundqvist AP PhotoIs Talbot for real, or is he just a pretender to Lundqvist's throne?
NEW YORK -- What we have here is not quite a full-blown goaltending controversy.

Not yet, at least.

But the decision to start Cam Talbot over incumbent Henrik Lundqvist was a big one, a bold one for new New York Rangers coach Alain Vigneault, and it will surely cause some ripples in the days ahead.

Vigneault, who so expertly left tongues wagging over the weekend after declining to reveal Monday’s starter, sufficiently doused the flames when he came out and endorsed Lundqvist as the team’s go-to guy -- declaring the former Vezina Trophy winner as “definitely” the team’s No. 1 goaltender -- but it would be na´ve not to think that this might change things for “The King.”

Because here is the elephant in the room: While Lundqvist’s play has dipped and Talbot has emerged as a steady and reliable presence on the ice, there is a potentially contentious situation brewing.

That is, of course, Lundqvist’s contract.

The 31-year-old Lundqvist, the team’s undisputed MVP in recent years and one of the best goaltenders in the league, is on the last year of a six-year, $41.25 million contract. He’s seeking a significant pay raise from the $6.875 million he makes annually, and it’s hard to argue that he hasn’t deserved it.

Yet, preliminary discussions between the Rangers and Lundqvist’s camp have yielded little. How might this recent development change the landscape for negotiations moving forward?

The Rangers seemed to take a hard line in negotiations -- a somewhat surprising stance considering Lundqvist has often been considered their most valuable asset -- but in doing so, may have acquired some leverage. Lundqvist is not performing on par with previous seasons and Talbot is giving the club something to think about. Lundqvist is 31, which may make a max eight-year contract prohibitive. Meanwhile, Talbot is burgeoning into a bona fide NHL goaltender worthy of consideration.

That said, Lundqvist’s past performance is not something that should be discounted by any means. Few goaltenders have been as steady, consistent, and durable as Lundqvist has been over the last eight years for the Rangers. Keeping in mind an ill-advised preseason schedule, a grueling nine-game road trip to start the year, and a lingering injury that kept him out for a pair of games in the first month, Lundqvist’s brief decline should, in relation to his entire body of work, probably be viewed as an anomaly.

This is a franchise goaltender who has carried the team on his back for many years. Do you risk shattering his confidence, undermining his stake with the team over a rookie who has had a phenomenal, but brief, seven-game debut?

These will be important questions the Rangers must address as the season progresses and contract discussions loom. It seems inconceivable that Lundqvist would ever be traded, but who knows what can happen if a club chooses to play hardball with a guy as fiercely competitive and proud as Lundqvist.

It is premature to call Monday’s decision a turning point, for the franchise or Lundqvist’s future with the club, but it is fair to consider it a precursor for a developing situation that has the potential to mushroom into something much bigger.

And when the music stopped, all the coaching chairs were taken.

A whirlwind Friday in the NHL coaching world saw all the vacancies filled up, pretty much anyway.

The Vancouver Canucks still haven’t officially named their new head coach, but all signs point to John Tortorella being their man.

Across the continent, former Canucks coach Alain Vigneault was officially introduced as the New York Rangers' new boss, meaning the Blueshirts and Canucks will end up simply swapping coaches if the Tortorella deal goes through in Vancouver.

Nobody said the hockey world was boring, right?

I like the Vigneault hire a lot. Having coached in Montreal and Vancouver, there’s nothing Vigneault hasn’t seen. New York is a bigger town but a smaller hockey market than those two previous stops. He’s a terrific coach and a great communicator, and I think the Rangers struck gold with that hiring.

Not so sure I feel the same way about Tortorella in Vancouver. I've always gotten along with the man called "Torts," but I feel that a year away from the game to decompress and recalibrate would have served him better. And there aren't many more demanding markets than Vancouver, where the media spotlight will be even more intense than it was in New York.

I understand what the Canucks are doing. Their brass loves Tortorella's fiery disposition and believe he will demand more accountability from the players. This hire isn't about whether he’s going to play nice with the media but rather is focused on what the Vancouver players need from their coach.

Still, this is a gamble from GM Mike Gillis in what is his first coaching hire.

Meanwhile, Lindy Ruff landed in Dallas while Dave Tippett re-upped with the Phoenix Coyotes.

It is not a coincidence that Vancouver and Dallas zeroed in on their guys just as Tippett announced he was staying put.

I believe the Stars and Canucks were keeping tabs on the Phoenix situation before moving on with their coaching hires, because both teams would have wanted to speak with Tippett had he been available.

Instead, Tippett waited as long as he could to see what would transpire with the Coyotes ownership situation and finally re-signed Friday. It’s still not a guarantee that the Coyotes will stay put -- much of that is still being decided as the city of Glendale and the prospective Coyotes owners negotiate a lease agreement that would cement the team’s future there -- but the rumors of Seattle being a solid Plan B if the team relocates were enough for Tippett to sign anyway.

In other words, Tippett certainly hopes the team doesn't move, but Seattle wouldn't be a terrible place for him. He has a daughter who lives there.

With Tippett unavailable, Dallas and Vancouver certainly hired some accomplished men, Tortorella winning a Stanley Cup with Tampa Bay in 2004 and Ruff having a successful track record with an underdog Sabres team in Buffalo, including a trip to the 1999 Stanley Cup finals.

The Stars are going through a rebuild of sorts with new GM Jim Nill -- one of the game’s top talent evaluators -- and I think the patient Ruff is a good fit for a team that might need some seasoning before it is ready to win.

I feel bad for John Stevens, who appears to be the runner-up in Vancouver. The Canucks informed him over the past day that he was out of the running, a source confirmed Friday. Stevens is ready to be a head coach again, and it’s disappointing he didn't get that chance this offseason.

His work with the Kings as an assistant coach is reflected in the team’s sparkling defensive game. Stevens is a cerebral coach who thinks the game extremely well. He deserves another shot in a top job, and he'll just have to wait his turn. Other openings will undoubtedly beckon a year from now.
NEW YORK -- The Rangers' coaching search continues, and their list of candidates has been whittled down with Wednesday's news out of Pittsburgh of Dan Bylsma's extension.

Another candidate the Rangers had sought out, former Toronto Marlies coach Dallas Eakins, was announced as Ralph Kruger's replacement in Edmonton on Monday.

Rangers general manager Glen Sather, looking for a coach to replace the recently dismissed John Tortorella, was believed to have been keenly interested in Bylsma. The 2011 Jack Adams Award recipient is no longer available, though, as Penguins general manager Ray Shero bucked mounting pressure following his team's third-round exit and backed Bylsma.

At a news conference Wednesday morning, Shero announced that the Penguins had given Bylsma a two-year extension.

So, who is left?

Alain Vigneault, the former coach of the Vancouver Canucks, appears to be the front-runner, although the Rangers are not the only team in hot pursuit.

It is believed that the Stars are also enamored with Vigneault, though they have recently expressed interest in others (such as Tortorella, as ESPNNewYork.com reported Tuesday).

Vigneault interviewed with Sather and fellow Rangers executives at the team's annual organizational meetings in La Quinta, Calif., on Tuesday.

The Rangers have also obtained permission from Buffalo to speak with Lindy Ruff, though it is not immediately clear whether they have set a firm date to interview the former Sabres coach.

And let's not forget the Rangers' own Mark Messier, who emerged as a bit of a surprising candidate on the heels of Tortorella's dismissal two weeks ago.

The former captain, now an executive within the organization, expressed interest in the position, though he has no NHL coaching experience.

The Rangers could also be interested in Phoenix Coyotes coach Dave Tippett, should he become available. Though Coyotes GM Don Maloney told ESPNNewYork.com via email recently that the organization intends to keep Tippett, the team's tenuous future could be an obstacle.

During a news conference in Chicago on Wednesday afternoon prior to Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman discussed the possibility of relocation for the Coyotes. Quebec City and Seattle are believed to be the front-runners should the team leave Glendale, but multiple sources indicated to ESPNNewYork.com that Tippett might not necessarily be on board should the club move.

On a conference call with reporters following the Tortorella decision, Sather said he'd like to have a coach in place by the NHL draft on June 30.

So Vancouver Canucks GM Mike Gillis fed head coach Alain Vigneault and assistants Rick Bowness and Newell Brown to the lions.

Hardly a surprise.

That's what happens when a talented, Stanley Cup-hopeful team goes 1-8 in the playoffs over the past two years. The Canucks owned home-ice advantage in both series, and lost the first two games of the series at home both times.

Someone has to pay the price for that kind of underachievement.

And let's not forget, Vigneault was inherited by Gillis when Gillis took over five years ago. Every GM should get to hire at least one coach before any final judgments are issued on his tenure.

But does anyone anywhere think this was strictly a coaching issue? Does anyone think that as this team stands now it's simply a matter of getting a new voice behind the bench?

Maybe Gillis, who met with the media in Vancouver on Wednesday afternoon and opined that people have been after both him and Vigneault for the past five years, actually believes that.

And while Vancouver does have its own unique dynamic with the media and a fan base still waiting for the franchise's first Stanley Cup, is there a GM in Canada or any major American market who doesn't feel the same kind of pressure to produce and, moreover, to answer when there are failures?

Maybe in the coming days and months Gillis will be vindicated with this move.

Maybe someone like Dallas Eakins comes in and takes this team to the greatness foretold when the Canucks advanced to the seventh game of the 2011 Stanley Cup finals. Or maybe it's Lindy Ruff who does it. Or Dave Tippett, pending the resolution of ownership issues in Phoenix.

[+] EnlargeAlain Vigneault
Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty ImagesAlain Vigneault took the fall for Vancouver's recent failures, but there's more blame to go around.
But if the media and the fans are this day feasting on Vigneault, this is without question a failure that extends far beyond Vigneault's game plans and his inability to get his team to play at a higher level in the postseason.

Gillis shares that burden of failure, having presided over a team that has fallen in a shocking manner from the ranks of the NHL's elite.

Gillis grossly miscalculated the trade market for goalie Roberto Luongo and in the end couldn't even give the veteran netminder away at the trade deadline, despite his best efforts to peddle Luongo to Toronto for a couple of draft picks.

And so the one issue that absolutely needed to be dealt with -– moving Luongo in order to allow Cory Schneider to fully grow into the starting role bequeathed to him at the end of the disappointing first-round loss to Los Angeles last April -- remained the elephant with pads that never left the Canucks' dressing room.

Think the Luongo market will pick up before the start of free agency? Ha.

When you get swept as the Canucks did at the hands of the San Jose Sharks, with Schneider allowing nine goals on 75 shots in two losses to close out the series after Luongo started and played well enough in the first two games, let's just say no other GM is going to be throwing Gillis a life preserver.

Unless he is prepared to use a compliance buyout on Luongo, which brings with it a host of salary-cap issues, Gillis is going to have to eat some of Luongo’s salary and/or take on some other team's contract baggage.

And it's not as if the Canucks don't already have some of that kind of baggage. Winger David Booth has two more years at $4.25 million, defenseman Keith Ballard has two more years at $4.2 million, and Vancouver has five more years of Jason Garrison at $4.6 million, for the former Florida Panther who recorded zero points in the playoffs after taking a long time to get going during the regular season.

According to Capgeek.com, the Canucks are already at the cap threshold for next season with 17 players under contract.

The addition of center Derek Roy at the trade deadline didn't pan out at all –- he had one assist in the Sharks series -– and Roy will likely be headed somewhere else this summer as an unrestricted free agent.

So this promises to be an interesting and perhaps seminal summer for Gillis and the Canucks.

There are still too many elemental pieces on the Canucks' roster to dismiss them entirely. The Sedin twins -- Henrik and Daniel -- are cornerstone players, even if they combined for zero goals in the four-game sweep by the Sharks.

Center Ryan Kesler has proved to be as good a two-way forward as there is in the game, but his durability remains a nagging problem. Kevin Bieksa, Alexander Edler and Dan Hamhuis represent what should be the defensive foundation of a contending team.

But there remains the overwhelming feeling that this isn't a team that has simply hit a speed bump like the Pittsburgh Penguins or Chicago Blackhawks have the past couple of years. Rather, Vancouver is a team that with no obvious second wave of young talent on the horizon is on the verge of seeing its window to glory quickly closing and a window to uncertainty opening.

Maybe it was time for Vigneault to go. He won a Jack Adams Award as coach of the year, and led the Canucks to a pair of Presidents’ Trophies and a Cup finals berth, but they blew series leads of 2-0 and 3-2 to Boston in the 2011 Cup finals and couldn't get out of the first round the next two years.

It was likely time for change, even as it seems likely Vigneault will find NHL employment elsewhere quickly, whether in Dallas or Colorado, depending on whether the Avalanche hire Patrick Roy.

But if the clock ran out on Vigneault in Vancouver on Wednesday, then the same clock is now ticking loudly in the ear of Mike Gillis.

SPONSORED HEADLINES