Rangers carry momentum home in bid for 4th in row
|RANGERS ON DEMAND
|Tortorella's Pregame Remarks from Earlier Today
• Game Notes
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
The Rangers play their final game before the Christmas holiday this evening when they host the Florida Panthers in an important Eastern Conference contest at Madison Square Garden.
In seeking their fourth straight victory the Rangers are playing some of their best hockey since the opening weeks of the season. In fact their current three-game win streak is the team’s longest since winning seven in a row from Oct. 3-17.
|With 25 goals on the season already, Rangers forward Marian Gaborik, who leads all others by two goals, is looking to become the first Rangers player in 68 years to lead the league in goal-scoring.
The Panthers are also playing very well heading into Christmas. Coming off a 4-1 win in Philadelphia on Monday night, the Panthers have won four of their last five games. They currently sit in the eighth and final playoff spot in the East with 39 points, two better than the Rangers who have 37 points, although the Blueshirts have two games in hand.
Though Rangers head coach John Tortorella is quick to point out that it’s too early in the season to be checking the standings every day, it is also true that the Blueshirts have created some separation between themselves and the Islanders, Flyers, and Hurricanes after defeating all three Eastern Conference foes in the past week.
“Three wins in a row, and we’re starting to turn things around and pick up our game,” said Brandon Dubinsky
, who scored the game-winning goal and added an assist in Monday’s 3-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes. “We went through such a tough stretch there, it takes a little while to dig out of a hole. And obviously there are things we can do better in these games. But it feels good.”
Tortorella praised the play of his top line, featuring Dubinsky in between wingers Marian Gaborik
and Vinny Prospal
, following Monday’s victory. Like Dubinsky, Gaborik scored a goal and had an assist, while also leading the club with six shots. And Prospal made a good defensive play and neat first pass to kickstart the play that ended with Dubinsky’s clutch goal early in the third period.
In five games since returning from a broken right hand, Dubinsky has recorded three points (1-2-3). His goal on Monday was his first in 15 games.
“Obviously I’ve been out, and when I came back I felt like I’ve been playing pretty well,” offered Dubinsky. “For me it was great to get that one and hopefully a few more will start coming here.”
After being held off the scoresheet on Saturday in Philadelphia, Gaborik notched two points on Monday, his 15th multiple-point outing this season. Gaborik now has 47 points, two behind league-leader Joe Thornton of San Jose. And his 25 goals lead the NHL by two over Alex Ovechkin and Patrick Marleau.
“Gabby played well,” Tortorella said after Monday’s game. “It was a good line for us. And I thought we were more on our toes in the third period. Dubi’s line led the way there.”
Monday also featured the return of defensemen Wade Redden
and Matt Gilroy
to the lineup. Both played effectively solid minutes, with Redden more engaged in the physical part of the game, in particular, after having been scratched the previous two matches.
With Redden and Gilroy paired together, Tortorella was able to cut back on the extensive minutes that Marc Staal
and Michal Rozsival
had recently been logging when rookies Bobby Sanguinetti and Ilkka Heikkinen
were in the lineup.
“I thought it went well,” said Redden. “I just wanted to come back and make plays, try to help everyone out as much as I can. I thought it went well, and it was nice to get the win.”
The cornerstone of the win in Carolina, as well as the previous two on Long Island and in Philly, was goaltender Henrik Lundqvist
. Playing as well as he has all season, Lundqvist turned in a rock-solid 32-save outing on Monday.
Amazingly, Lundqvist has stopped 103 of 107 shots over the last three games. Including a 2-1 loss to the Islanders last Wednesday, Lundqvist and the Rangers have surrendered only six goals in their last four contests. It marks their second-best four-game defensive stretch of the season. Between Oct. 11-17, the Rangers allowed only five goals in four games.
“I feel great, and the guys are playing, I think, smart,” said Lundqvist. “They’re keeping their cool in our own zone. We don’t run around and over-run things. We wait for the puck to come to us. Sometimes you just have to do less to get more.”
Tonight will mark the third of four meetings between the Rangers and Panthers. The Blueshirts dropped a 3-2 home-ice decision on Nov. 21 before securing 2-1 shootout victory down in Florida four days later.
Like the Rangers, the Panthers have fared better on the road than they have at home this season. Florida is 10-9-2 on the road, as opposed to 6-6-5 on home ice.
The Rangers, whose last five victories have come on the road, are 10-7-2 away from MSG. At The Garden, the Rangers are 7-9-1 this season, and have not won there in exactly one month since a 7-4 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Nov. 23.
Tonight’s contest starts a stretch of three straight home games for the Rangers, who will also play six of their next seven on Garden ice. Following the Christmas holiday, the Rangers will host the Islanders on Saturday and the Flyers next Wednesday.