NEW YORK (WFAN/AP) – It comes down to this. The top-seeded Rangers on the brink of elimination, needing two straight wins to keep their Stanley Cup hopes alive.
Only 11 players took the ice Sunday in what could have been the Blueshirts’ final practice of the season, and many of them aren’t likely to be in the Game 6 lineup Monday in Ottawa.
One player who will: Carl Hagelin, the speedy rookie forward who finished serving a controversial three-game suspension Saturday night when New York lost 2-0 at home.
They’ll need him to step up with forward Brian Boyle out with a concussion. After their best seasons in years, the Rangers are trailing the No. 8 seed Ottawa Senators 3-2 in the best-of-seven series.
Hagelin has been eager to get back in the lineup ever since his wayward elbow to the head of Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson in Game 2 landed him in trouble with the NHL and earned him the three-game ban. New York lost that game and then two of the three Hagelin missed to fall into this precarious position.
“I’m excited to get back,” Hagelin said Sunday, still wearing his helmet and practice gear. “We’re down 3-2. We want to get the next one, and that’s the only thing on my mind right now.”
Hagelin declined to answer if he has spoken to Alfredsson, his Swedish countryman, since the hit that left Alfredsson with his second concussion in six months.
The Senators also held an optional practice Sunday, and Alfredsson took part in it — creating at least some hope that he can also return for Game 6 in what will surely be a raucous home crowd.
“We’re obviously going to wait until (Monday), but the way the last two days felt, I’m encouraged,” Alfredsson told The Canadian Press.
Hagelin refrained from making any comments about what the Rangers’ lineup might look like on Monday, and he also didn’t want to say much about Alfredsson or the Senators. He kept his game face on and stuck to simple answers that wouldn’t get him in trouble with his club or anyone else.
“I don’t want to comment on anyone on their team. If he’s good, then that’s good,” Hagelin said of Alfredsson. “I am going to keep playing the same way I have been playing all year. I am not a dirty player. If I don’t play the way I need to play, I’m not going to be a good player. I am going to do my thing.”
So is Ottawa agitator Chris Neil, who appears to have escaped punishment from the NHL for his high and hard hit against Boyle in the third period of Saturday night’s game that according to coach John Tortorella, gave Boyle a concussion.
Boyle struggled to get back to the bench, played only a few shifts after the hit, and is a question mark to even make the trip to Ottawa for Game 6. If Boyle can’t play, that means that quickly improving rookie Chris Kreider will probably be in the lineup for a fourth straight game. The 19-year-old Kreider, who recently won an NCAA championship with Boston College, signed with the Rangers right after his college season ended.
Tortorella said Kreider may get even more minutes “because some other guys simply just haven’t done the job.”
As of Sunday, the NHL didn’t schedule a disciplinary hearing with Neil after reviewing the play, so it is unlikely he will be fined or suspended. Neil wasn’t given a penalty in the game, either.
Tortorella said Sunday he had no reaction to the lack of punishment, a far cry from his stern words after the game on Saturday. He angrily compared it to a hit delivered by Phoenix’s Raffi Torres, who was suspended by the NHL on Saturday for 25 games for his shot that sent Chicago’s Marian Hossa to the hospital.
“He’s concussed and out,” Tortorella said about Boyle. “Exact same hit as Torres. “He launches himself, head shot. The puck is at the goal line when he’s hit. The blueprint is there.
“It’s just a dangerous, dangerous, cheap hit.”
If New York doesn’t win on the road Monday night and then capture Game 7 back at home on Thursday night, the 51 wins and the first-place finishes in the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference won’t mean a thing.
“Whoever is going to win has to win four,” Rangers forward Brad Richards said, “and no one has done that yet.”
Do you think Neil deserved a suspension from the league? And what’s your prediction for Game 6? Sound off below!
(TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)