A Knicks game, eating right, ‘rest as a weapon’ — how the Rangers are staying sharp amid long break

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TARRYTOWN, N.Y. — It goes against the grain of what NHL playoff hockey is all about: The intensity, the win-or-go-home stress of each night on the ice, followed quickly by a chance to do it again.

The Rangers, though, put their first-round series to bed quicker than anyone in the playoffs. That meant an indefinite stretch of down time that’s rare in the playoffs. It’s even rarer for this franchise, with the seven-day (at minimum) break between rounds matching the longest postseason stretch between series that the Rangers have ever had — most recently between the 2008 Eastern Conference quarterfinals and semifinals.

After the Rangers dispatched the Washington Capitals in four games with a 4-2 win in Washington on Sunday, Peter Laviolette and his coaching staff planned a course of action. They didn’t know who they were playing next; they now know it’s the Carolina Hurricanes, but the start date of the second round hasn’t been announced yet, so this is still an open-ended stretch without a game.

Laviolette said he and his staff were of two minds when it came to how to structure this week. After days off on Monday and Tuesday, the coaches and players met to discuss how the remainder of the week would go.

“If it’s in question with the coaches, if you’re split in your decision, sometimes it’s best to get the input of the players who actually have to deal with the obligations — practice, pregame skates, all of that,” Laviolette said. “We’ve treated (this week) exactly the way we did coming out of the regular season. We gave the guys two days off (to start). That’s a chance for them inside of (the postseason) to get away from it for a second, let their bodies heal up. And then it’s time to go back to work.”

The Ranger dads were likely dadding Monday and Tuesday, a rare couple of days to stay home during the playoffs. Even the childless Rangers were utilizing the stretch early this week to recuperate — even if a few of them made it to their home arena to watch the Knicks play Game 5 of their first-round series against the Sixers on Tuesday.

“You just clean up some bumps and bruises,” said Jimmy Vesey, one of the Rangers who attended that Knicks game. “We did it before the first round and it boded well for us. Now that we know our opponent, we can hone in on some details, have some practices like these. I just look at it like, rest is a weapon this time of year. If you’re playing two or three rounds and you’re going seven (games) each round, it can be tough when the games pile up every other day. Take the rest, use it to our advantage and be ready to go when the second round starts.”

“Sleep is a big one,” K’Andre Miller said. “Nutrition is another, a way to keep sharp throughout the week. Working out, stretching, doing the little things, whatever you can.”

The two practice days the Rangers have had this week were intense, especially Thursday — Laviolette was honing in on those details, especially the speed and consistency of effort that the Rangers will need against the Hurricanes’ aggressiveness in all three zones. With another day off on Friday, the Rangers were able to dial up the tempo of an hour-ish practice, better than perhaps they could if the second round was just a couple days after the first round ended.

“We’re treating it like a mini-training camp,” Laviolette said. “Taking three days of practice (they get back on the ice Saturday), doing what we need to do based on us, our opposition, all of that.”

The mental side of the playoffs is sometimes the bigger grind, whether it’s the rhythm of playing every other day with barely any practice time or just trying to stay in the playoff zone while you’re idle for a bit. Will Cuylle, going through his first NHL postseason, said watching some of the other games, particularly the Hurricanes’ Game 5 clincher over the Islanders — he caught up on that one after he got back from the Knicks game — keeps him focused.

“It is nice to get away from the rink, do some other things,” he said. “I don’t really have too many crazy things to do. You do feel like you just want to get the series started.”

And for all the focus on facing the Hurricanes, the Rangers didn’t get to be the Presidents’ Trophy winners this year by worrying too much about their opponents. “If we do the things we do,” Cuylle said, “that shouldn’t allow them to succeed too much.”

Ultimately, the Rangers can’t do much about the week between series. And they have some recent memories of the alternative to waiting.

“I had a lot of time to think last season,” Igor Shesterkin said of the Rangers’ first-round loss to the Devils. “Just want to keep playing.”

(Photo: Randy Litzinger / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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