NEW YORK -– Saturday was the day for the Rangers to soak it all in -- the atmosphere and ambiance of an NHL rink placed smack dab into one of the most famous venues in all of sports. Friends and family members took a twirl on the foreign ice and players experimented with eye black and extra layers as a flurry of snowflakes ended a novel practice day with a flourish.
But when the Rangers take the ice as the visiting team in Sunday’s match against the New Jersey Devils in the first of two Stadium Series games at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, they’ll do so with the narrow focus of securing a critical two points.
That’s the margin that separates the Rangers and the Devils in the Metropolitan Division standings right now, and that is ground the Blueshirts are loathe to surrender.
Heading into Sunday’s action, the 27-23-3 Rangers are second in the Metropolitan Division with 57 points while the 22-19-11 Devils are making a push from behind with 55 points and two straight wins.
“The whole practice we were all kind of looking around. This is the day you get to enjoy it,” captain Ryan Callahan said. “But we’re all professionals. We know when we’re coming in tomorrow, it’s two points on the line.”
The shifts may be a bit shorter, the game plan a bit more simple, and the temperatures a bit more chilly, but the goal is the same.
This is, after all, the same team that knocked off the Rangers in the Eastern Conference finals in the playoffs two years ago, and the rivalry still exists.
“It’s exciting, but, if we were at MSG or in Jersey, it would be a huge game no matter what,” said defenseman Marc Staal. “We’re really close and there are only so many games where you can make some distance up or keep 'em down, so it’s going to be big for us to try and get a win.”
By all accounts, the ice conditions were good. Plus, the Rangers have the benefit of outdoor game experience, having beaten the Philadelphia Flyers in the Winter Classic back in January 2012.
It’s a game Lundqvist hasn't forgotten and he expects Sunday’s match to be the same.
“It’s a game you will remember for the rest of your life,” he said.
Lundqvist wore new pinstriped pads for practice, which he will don in Sunday’s game -- an homage to the Yankees organization and all of the legendary players to wear those uniforms.
Ever since the NHL created the Winter Classic as its signature event, Lundqvist has been hoping to have one on home turf.
Sunday, his wish will be granted.
“Playing in New York and in Yankee Stadium -- it’s a very special thing. We wanted to do this for a long time,” Lundqvist said. “We talked about it when they started the Winter Classic games, that hopefully one day we’d get the opportunity to play at Yankee Stadium."