Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault was content to play coy, but Raphael Diaz let the cat out of the bag.
Diaz will replace the suspended John Moore in the Rangers lineup for Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals Thursday night.
“I’m really excited,” Diaz said. “I know the team, I know the players. I was playing for them and I think it’s a great challenge. I’m really excited to play the game.”
Diaz, who played in Games 3 and 4 of the Metropolitan Division finals against Pittsburgh, will be paired with Kevin Klein against the Canadiens. The top two defense pairs remained intact.
With Klein on his normal side, Diaz plays on the left side.
“Play simple hockey, first pass and try to join the rush. Communication is really important. Let us know what what we want to do,” Diaz said of what he and Klein needed to do, before assessing the differences between playing the left and right sides. “A couple things that I found out were easier on the left side. As a right defenseman you can move the puck really quick, right away, I learned.”
No concern for Lundqvist
Following a less-than-regal performance in Game 5, in which he yielded four goals on 19 shots in 28:58, there were whispers about Henrik Lundqvist.
Thursday morning, the Rangers responded to the questions by, essentially, smirking.
“I think he’s going to be the best player for us,” Derick Brassard said. “I think everyone knows that. You could see it [Thursday] morning when you got to the rink how he prepared. I think he’s going to be our best player. He’s human, after all. He’s not the only one there who didn’t play well [in Game 5]. We all did in front of him. They had so many scoring chances that we gave them and [Lundqvist] was by himself. We’re pretty confident having him in the net.”
Emelin in doubt, Weise out
Michel Therrien said defenseman Alexei Emelin was a game-time decision, while right wing Dale Weise is out. Therrien diagnosed Weise with a euphemistic “body injury.” Weise was leveled by John Moore with an open-ice hit in Game 5, which the league suspended the New York defenseman for Wednesday, saying the hit was an “illegal check to the head.”
Weise was sent to the so-called quiet room after the hit, but did return to the game.
Therrien attempted to explain the Canadiens’ medical protocol juxtaposed against the athletes desire to compete.
“He went to meet the doctors,” Therrien said. “He was feeling fine about finishing the game. For us, what is really important is player safety. This is important for us. It’s been like that all season long. It’s not going to change. For a player not able to play the next game, this is something that we could see on a regular basis. You can see [Derek] Stepan finished a game with a broken jaw, get an operation the next day, miss Game 4 and came back after his operation. So those are the things that you see at this time of the year. But right now he’s got a body injury. He won’t be able to play tonight.
“As a coach, I never get a concussion. But one thing I trust, we trust our medical staff. We trust our doctor. So when they’re saying that [Weise is] good to go, he’s good to go. But right now he’s having a body injury.”
Therrien did add that Brandon Prust, the former Ranger who missed Games 4 and 5 while serving a two-game suspension for his hit on Stepan in Game 3, would be back in the lineup.
“He’s going to be hungry to play,” Therrien said. “He’s going to go hard. He’s excited about playing tonight. We’re glad he’s back in our lineup.”
Follow Rangers beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.