Alain Vigneault will make a homecoming of sorts Tuesday night, but the New York Rangers coach can’t afford to dwell on that too much with his team locked in a tight battle for an Eastern Conference playoff spot.
Vigneault returns to Vancouver as the Rangers try to pick up two more critical points against the Canucks and former coach John Tortorella, whose club is struggling to stay in the West postseason picture.
New York (42-30-4) hired Vigneault in June after he was dismissed following seven seasons and one Stanley Cup finals appearance with Vancouver. The Canucks reached the 100-point mark five times under their former coach, and he figures to be warmly received at Rogers Arena.
Vigneault and the Rangers visited Vancouver in the preseason in late September, but he said this trip is different.
"First time was emotional, now it’s just about winning games," Vigneault said. "… All I am concerned about is preparing my team to get more points."
Vigneault and Tortorella simply swapped jobs in the offseason, and the Rangers would certainly like a repeat of the teams’ first meeting of the season Nov. 30, a 5-2 win. Chris Kreider, out indefinitely with a hand injury, recorded a hat trick in that contest while Rick Nash had a goal and two assists.
The Rangers rebounded from having their five-game winning streak snapped in a 4-3 loss to Calgary on Friday by beating Edmonton 5-0 on Sunday.
Mats Zuccarello and Nash scored twice, with Zuccarello adding an assist, and Cam Talbot made 26 saves for his third shutout of the season. The Rangers are 1-1-0 on their western road trip that concludes against Colorado on Thursday.
They scored two short-handed goals and once on the power play, and toughened up defensively after a sloppy effort in their own end against the Flames.
”We tightened it up and moving forward we have to play that way because the points are so big,” said center Derek Stepan, who recorded three assists. ”We have played a good defensive game over the last few weeks and that is what is going to lead to our offense and help us win.”
New York is two points up on Philadelphia, which has two games in hand, for the second spot in the Metropolitan Division.
While the Rangers are in good position to make the playoffs, the same can’t be said of Tortorella’s Canucks (34-31-11), who are five points out of the second wild-card spot and need to pass Dallas and Phoenix to get there. Both of those clubs also have games in hand on Vancouver.
An ill-timed slump isn’t helping matters, as the Canucks fell 5-1 to Anaheim on Saturday and are 0-1-1 in the past two after a three-game winning streak.
"I don’t blame the guys for being down, but I believe they’ll get themselves back up here, and we need to focus on the Rangers and try to get a couple points there," Tortorella said.
Henrik Lundqvist figures to be back in goal for New York. He hasn’t faced the Canucks since Oct. 18, 2011, but posted shutouts in his last two matchups with them.
Vancouver’s Eddie Lack, who gave up all five goals on 21 shots Saturday, replaced the now-departed Roberto Luongo on Nov. 30 and stopped 12 of 14 shots.