Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault wouldn’t say much, but don’t expect any lineup changes.
“Find out tomorrow at 7 o’clock,” Vigneault said, when asked about his lineup following practice at the Garden Thursday morning. “It’s not an 8 o’clock start [as Game 3 was].”
The line combinations and defensive pairings throughout Thursday’s practice were the same as the 4-1 win in Game 3. As such, Vigneault does not have to modify his line because the Rangers are ahead in the series. But his options are limited even if he wanted to. Chris Kreider is not available as he recuperates from a broken hand, Jesper Fast did not distinguish himself in Games 1 and 2 and J.T. Miller does not seem like a recourse Vigneault wants to tap into at this point.
So while it’s likely the Rangers will continue with the status quo, the Flyers announced goaltender Steve Mason will start Game 4 following practice Thursday at their Voorhees, New Jersey training facility.
“Will [Mason] be going [in Game 4]?,” coach Craig Berube said rhetorically, when asked who will start Friday night by reporters following the session. “Yep. You guys [in the media] didn’t figure that out.”
The determination to start Mason Friday is the culmination of a bizarre saga in which the team would not divulge the goaltender’s condition after being run over by teammate Andrew MacDonald and Penguins center Jayson Megna in the second period of the Flyers’ 4-3 overtime win on April 12, but had him dress for Game 3, one day after he said he would not be available.
Mason replaced Ray Emery late in the third period Monday, and stopped all three shots he faced. In three regular season games against the Rangers, Mason was 2-1-0 with a 2.01 goals against average and .937 save percentage. In seven career games against the Rangers for both the Flyers and Blue Jackets, Mason has a 4-1-1 record with a 2.49 goals against average and .928 save percentage.
The Rangers collectively stressed their approach will stay the same despite the switch.
“It’s going to sound like a broken record: We’re not changing much,” Derek Stepan said. “We’re doing the things that [led] us to success in [Games] 1 and 3. That’s what our focus is — making sure that we’re playing the way we need to.”
On the Blue Jacket bandwagon
Ex-Blue Jacket Derek Dorsett is among Columbus’ growing legion of admirers after Wednesday night’s 4-3 overtime win in Game 4 of their Metropolitan Division series against top-seeded Pittsburgh.
That best-of-seven series is tied 2-2 after the Blue Jackets scored the game’s final four goals after spotting the Penguins a 3-0 lead in the first period. This playoff series is only the second in Columbus’ franchise history. The first was a four-game sweep at the hands of the Red Wings in 2008-09.
“They’re playing hard,” Dorsett said. “It’s been a good series. Obviously I [have] some friends on that team so [I] keep an eye on it. They’re doing a good job. [Fall behind 3-0] and they keep battling, come back and get the win, it’s good for them. [The] atmosphere in that rink looked like [it was wild after] the third and fourth [goals].
“When you win, the fans are always behind you. It’s good to see. They deserve it. In Columbus, the fans have stuck with the team for a long time. It’s good to see.”
Follow Rangers beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.