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Rangers Coach Alain Vigneault is familiar with Kings' playing style

Los Angeles KingsSportsIce HockeyVancouver CanucksHenrik LundqvistRyan McDonaghGlen Sather
Rangers Coach Alain Vigneault has experience playing against Kings
Coach Alain Vigneault has been a good fit in his first season in New York

Big forwards crowding the net. Constant forechecking. Lots of hitting and defense.

No one has to tell Alain Vigneault about the Kings' brand of hockey. The New York Rangers coach knows what to expect in this Stanley Cup Final.

"I've got a real good idea of how they like to play," he says.

Vigneault's personal history with the Kings dates back well before this series. For seven years, he coached against them as the man behind the bench at Western Conference rival Vancouver.

Now, it seems, he will need to draw upon that knowledge with his current team facing stiff odds and down, 1-0, heading into Game 2 on Saturday afternoon.

"For us to win," he said, "we're going to have to find a way to play to our strengths."

It wasn't so long ago that Vigneault held the upper hand against the Kings, his quick, talented Canucks cruising to a six-game victory in the 2010 conference quarterfinals.

The following season, Vancouver reached the 2011 Final against Boston and had two chances to claim the Cup before losing in seven games. The coach's future appeared secure.

But in 2012, the Kings mounted a surprise title run that started with an upset victory over Vancouver in the quarterfinals. Something had changed.

With an aging team and lingering questions at goalie, the Canucks were bounced early in the 2013 playoffs and Vigneault lost his job. At about the same time, the Rangers fired their coach, John Tortorella.

Here's where fate took a twist: The coaches ended up switching places.

Recalling that time, Rangers General Manager Glen Sather said he hired Vigneault because "I've known a lot about his history."

That included a stint with Montreal during the late 1990s and some years in the minors. More to the point, Vigneault brought a different style to the Rangers bench.

His understated nature and sense of humor contrasted with Tortorella's fiery, tough-talking persona.

It might have seemed as if the Canucks got the better of the swap at the time. With that veteran roster and a shrinking window of opportunity, they appeared to need a strong personality to whip them toward the finish line.

But Vancouver failed to make the playoffs this season and Tortorella got fired again last month. In New York, Vigneault's approach turned out to be a good fit.

"When he talks to us in the room, his intensity is there in a different way," defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. "He's not yelling and raising his voice — he just prepares in his details and plans. You can see he's done his homework."

The new guy used more of his bench during games, spreading minutes around. He gave his players more freedom at the offensive end of the ice.

It took some time for the system to set in, the Rangers getting off to a slow start. Even Vigneault acknowledges that if someone had predicted in October that his team would still be playing in June, "I probably would have said, 'What are you smoking?'"

His patience served him well. The season eventually turned a corner with goalie Henrik Lundqvist settling down and forward Martin St. Louis arriving in a trade.

"I just felt the patience from the entire coaching staff," Lundqvist recalled. "They understood the process for us to get to where we needed to be."

Now comes another challenge.

The Rangers figure to have at least two avenues for upsetting the favored Kings in this series — speed and goaltending. Those factors helped them jump to a 2-0 lead on a pair of breakaway goals in Game 1.

But the Kings eventually took command of the pace, outshooting New York, 20-3, in the third period. Then they turned a Rangers mistake into an overtime goal and a 3-2 victory.

On Thursday, Vigneault remained true to his nature, showing no sign of panic. If he delivered any sort of message to his team, it was done subtly.

"You know, at this time of the year, to win you've got to bring you're 'A' game," he said. "That's each and every player."

McDonagh talked about staying physical with a team that outhit them, 45-33, in the first game. Forward Carl Hagelin mentioned the need to limit turnovers and get pucks deeper in the Kings' zone to create opportunities with the forecheck.

The coach, however, did not reveal a whole lot about his adjustments for Game 2.

"Areas to exploit, they don't jump out at you," he said. "We're going to have to be better than we were."

For several days, Vigneault has been telling reporters that his squad is facing its toughest matchup of the season. He has praised the Kings' skill and structured play.

"They were a good team in the years past," he said. "They're a real good team now."

It's something he knows from personal experience.

david.wharton@latimes.com

Twitter: @LATimesWharton

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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Los Angeles KingsSportsIce HockeyVancouver CanucksHenrik LundqvistRyan McDonaghGlen Sather
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