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Is Ryan McDonagh Back For Game 3?

McD
The Rangers accomplished exactly what they needed to in Pittsburgh. They earned a split. It didn’t look good after Game 1 between losing Hank, losing to a third-stringer & losing despite controlling most of the play – but everyone I thought needed to step up did so Saturday. I thought the top-six (outside of Stepan) needed to contribute on the score sheet. Brassard, Zuccarello & Kreider all lit the lamp while JT Miller dished out three primary assists. Hank needed to be great & he was. With Girardi out, the defense got contributions from a pair of rookies. McIlrath certainly showed some nerves in his postseason debut but steadied the rest of his limited minutes. It was Brady Skjei though who stole the show. Smart, smooth skating, unflappable & displayed some versatility sliding over to the right side eating minutes while McIlrath watched from the bench & Klein from the penalty box. Don’t underestimate the importance of that. If and when the Blueshirts defensive group is healthy, Skjei needs to be in the lineup against the Pens.

Speaking of health on the blueline, Ryan McDonagh practiced in full today. He skated as an extra pair with Raphael Diaz but don’t expect AV to be forthcoming with his captain’s return. I assume Vigneault kept his top three pairs the same to maintain chemistry in case Mac Truck isn’t ready tomorrow. I can’t imagine he went through a full practice to sit though. Obviously all playoff games are important, but the Rangers need to capitalize on the momentum shift by taking the opener at MSG. The building will be jumping as it is & welcoming McDonagh back will only have the team and fans fired up even more. McD – Klein, Staal – Boyle, Yandle – Skjei. If AV preferred the RH shot over the better player, McIlrath would’ve soaked up third period minutes Saturday. He rode Skjei instead so it’s clear who the coach trusts more. Whether or not that’ll stick whenever Dan Girardi (didn’t practice today) is set to return remains to be seen.

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Here’s what Vigneault had to say about Girardi yesterday:

“Dan, in my estimation, is a real solid defenseman. He plays through more things than I’ve seen a lot of players that I’ve coached play through, and he’s always team-first. It’s always ‘I can play.’…If it was up to Dan, he’d be playing. I think he’s been, probably, unfairly criticized, and when he’s ready to come back I’m sure he’s going to play real well for us. He’s given us some real good games this year. He’s given us some real great years since I’ve been here. One of our best competitors and he’s a guy that’s really respected in our dressing room because of who he is and what he can bring. So right now he’s day-to-day, and when he’s ready to play, then we’ll make that decision.”

Don’t do this AV. No legitimate Rangers fan is questioning Girardi’s toughness, respectability or resume. That doesn’t mean that the game hasn’t passed him by. With all the pucks he’s worn without hesitation he’s put some serious miles on his tires and, between that & hockey just becoming a faster game overall, they’re too bald to keep up anymore. Intangibles can only go so far especially when we’re seeing a 22-year old thrive as a better option. Hell I would throw myself in front of any puck I could for a Rangers Cup. I don’t have that choice though because I’m not good enough. While I’m sure if I skated one-on-one with Dan Girardi he’d make me look like Dan Girardi, Dan Girardi is still gonna be Dan Girardi if he’s skating in the NHL playoffs. That’s not good enough either. Crow-barring #5 into the lineup at the expense of Skjei’s breakout simply makes them a worse team. I’m no NHL coach, but I don’t think that’s how you do it.

That’s a non-issue for the immediate future though. Right now it’s all about taking a 2-1 series lead and hopefully seeing #27 anchoring the defense. When asked, Vigneault game exactly the answer you’d expect from a coach in the playoffs: