Rangers, Devils drop the puck for the first of two Stadium Series games at Yankee Stadium
The New York Rangers take the ice for their first of two games here at the Stadium this week, the first against a New Jersey Devils team that has won all three games against them so far this season.
That 'ain't nothin' but a number, Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault said at Saturday's media session.
"The Devils [are] a team that plays a real structured, real hard defensive game. They've got some good size up front," Vigneault said. "And for me it's like any opponent: If all parts of your game -- goaltending, defense, offense, power play and penalty killing -- if one of those elements is not real sharp, there's a chance you might not win that game. So we're going to be ready in all areas of our game, have to be real good."
Despite the games being played in their city, the Blueshirts are the visitors for both this game and Wednesday's tilt with the Islanders -- but again, with the outdoor elements bringing a completely different angle, Vigneault wasn't worried about that at all.
"I think for both teams having an opportunity to play outside and play in front of great fans, is going to be real exciting," Vigneault said. "This is a different atmosphere, different environment, but as far as the sheet of ice, the 200‑by‑85, it stays the same, it's going to be the same game, except there will probably be a heightened sense of awareness and a little bit more excitement out there. It should be pleasant and a lot of fun for everybody."
The outdoor conditions for today's game are cold, much colder than a night at Madison Square Garden or the Prudential Center. With a high temperature of only 21 degrees in the forecast and the possibility of snow always in the air, the elements are a little rougher, but neither head coach believes the surface itself will be an issue
"It's a game, the ice will stay the same if the conditions are not what they were yesterday," Vigneault said before the game Sunday. "But if the conditions are just a little bit of cold and there's no snow and the ice is good, then what you're going to see on the ice is a real good hockey game."
Added Devils head coach Peter DeBoer: "I think when you talk to people who have participated in these games before, I think a lot of times less is more. I think the natural reaction is to go on and try and put on a show, and that's the reaction you have to fight because it's counterproductive in these types of games. It looks like the ice is going to be good. I don't think we're going to have to manage that. And [we'll] just show up and play our game."
There are 10 Rangers that at least have Winter Classic experience from 2012, one of which might be the most important Blueshirt on the ice Sunday, Henrik Lundqvist. Vigneault declared Saturday that Lundqvist will be starting at least Sunday's game, but the previous experience isn't necessarily as beneficial as you might think, according to the netminder.
"It's exciting that we're finally here," Lundqvist said. "It's easier (because I've done this before) but it's still a challenge, because everything is so different. When you're out there, it's so much to take in, the crowd and the way it looks. There's nothing behind the glass; it's different for your eyes. But, I think once it starts, I'll be focused on what I have to do."
His opponent will be a familiar one, as Martin Brodeur will make his third start in four games against the Rangers this season. Cory Schneider is 4-0-2 with a 0.96 goals-against average in his last six starts, but for DeBoer, the decision to go with the 41-year-old face of the franchise was still a no-brainer.
"It really is an easy decision from a right thing to do perspective. I mean, you know, his career, 20 years with the Devils, what he's done, and also he's played some excellent hockey for us this year," DeBoer said of Brodeur. "He was outstanding last week in Montreal. The tough part is that Cory is on a roll right now, and he's been almost unbeatable for the last five or six games. So that threw a little bit of a wrench in the thinking, but at the end of the day, this is the right thing to do. And both guys have handled it professionally and Cory understands that."
"I'm happy to play a game," Brodeur said. "Kind of a little different setting to do it, but it's exciting. I think this organization has been talking about it for a few months now, since we got the call that we were going to play in this game. So to be a part of it, you know, and playing the game, I'm definitely happy about that."
So, it will be Lundqvist and Brodeur doing what they always do, only in front of a much larger crowd than usual -- one that DeBoer, for one, knows will be full of fans who may not normally take in this game if it were on Broadway or in Newark.
"I can tell you, I've run into a lot of people over the last month that are not traditional hockey fans that have asked me about this game and about the excitement," DeBoer said. "I think there's a real crossover because the venues you're playing in. It's natural that you're going to get some baseball fans because it's at Yankee Stadium; they're going to show some interest. I think that crossover element is great for our sport."
And despite being professionals, some of those on the ice will be a bit star-struck, too.
"When I walked in the Yankees' dressing room I was in awe," DeBoer said. "I can't describe the memorabilia on the walls in there and the pictures. They're not team photos, they're casual shots of guys sitting around the locker room or on the training table and in quiet moments, legendary athletes that you've watched your whole life. It's an awe-inspiring place. And I think walking out with 50 or 60,000 people in here is going to be magical."
"It was everything that I imagined it was going to be," added Vigneault. "Like I remember these days growing up, coming home from school, putting your skates on your shoulders, going in that box that was semi warm, putting your skates on, and going out and playing hockey."