Silence can be the difference between a large silver Cup and an unfulfilling end to the season.
Following an optional morning skate at the Garden Thursday, head coach Alain Vigneault explained why playoff teams become tight-lipped regarding the medical condition of their players.
Call it a cat-and-mouse game or paranoia, but the underlying rationale for the philosophy is an inherent concern of a rival.
“Once the playoffs start, you’re playing an opponent [and] both teams, their goal is to win four games,” Vigneault said. “I would say to you if you know that somebody on the opposition has a weakness, you’ll try to exploit that. So injuries are something that, at that time of the year, you try to keep internal. There are different theories but I think all 16 teams abide by that.
“If somebody’s got an upper-body injury, it would be safe to say the opposition knows that and they would tell their players, ‘Let’s make sure we finish our checks on him.’ Not that they want to hurt him. Somebody’s got a leg injury or he might [have] a tough time skating, ‘Let’s challenge him more on that side,’ et cetera, et cetera.”
Let’s just say MSG hasn’t been a Garden of dreams for the Rangers in 2013-14.
Entering Thursday night’s regular season finale at the Garden, the Rangers had a 19-17-4 mark at home compared to a 25-14-1 record on the road.
Still, the Rangers want home ice with the Stanley Cup playoffs beginning next week.
“We’re still playing for home ice,” Brad Richards said. “I think it’s important. In playoffs everything is so tight. It’s a different animal than the regular season. Matchups become that much more important — faceoffs, stuff like that. If it goes to an all-important seventh game and you have last change, it’s a big advantage. We’re going to try our best for it.”
Richards pointed to his Lightning team’s Game 7 wins over the Flyers and Flames in 2004, and the Rangers’ Game 7 win over Washington in 2012, as examples of the importance of having home ice.
“[We] went to Game 7, and pretty much felt in control both games on home ice the whole time,” Richards said about the Lightning’s Eastern Conference finals and Stanley Cup Final clinching games in 2004. “Even here, Ottawa and Washington my first year here — I remember more the Washington series for some reason — that Game 7 at home it seemed like we had way more jump and got a goal early [that] got the crowd into it. It helps a lot.”
Entering Thursday night’s game, the Rangers were the No. 2 seed in the Metropolitan Division playoff race, two points ahead of third-seeded Philadelphia and first wild-card Columbus. The Rangers and Blue Jackets have each played 80 games, while the Flyers have a game in hand.
The Rangers end the regular season Saturday night in Montreal.
Follow Rangers beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.