Rangers demand more of selves in bid for playoffs
• Game Notes
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
Down to 12 games left on the regular season schedule, the Rangers close out a three-game homestand this evening when they host the St. Louis Blues at Madison Square Garden.
After tonight, the Rangers will play seven of their next eight games on the road, and they close out the season with eight of 11 away from The Garden. Tonight’s game will be the last against an opponent from the Western Conference, meaning that the remaining 11 will largely be played against teams in the same exact position as the Rangers, those fighting for the final one or two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.
|Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist says the key to the Blueshirts' success over the next 12 games will be a teamwide commitment to playing with a very high level of "energy and urgency" at all times.
“It’s not going to be easy down the stretch here,” said goaltender Henrik Lundqvist
. “We need to be playing our best hockey. Everybody’s trying, but we just need to be better. A lot of teams are in the same spot as we are, so we have to match their sense of urgency.”
To a man the Blueshirts were angry with their effort and performance in their most recent contest, a 3-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens at MSG on Tuesday night. Rangers head coach John Tortorella clearly was not happy following that game, nor was he in better spirits at practice on Wednesday.
Tortorella's post-practice meeting with the media was short and to the point, as he personally displayed the sort of focus he wishes for his team to adopt over the final three-and-a-half weeks of the season.
“It’s not to point fingers at any one, two, or three players. That was a crowded bus (Tuesday) night,” said Tortorella in explaining where the Rangers fell short against the Canadiens.
At the crux of the frustration felt both by the coach and his players was the seeming lack of passion displayed by the Rangers after two extremely impassioned winning efforts against Atlanta and Philadelphia heading into Tuesday’s contest.
The mental and physical on-ice breakdowns, in particular the plethora of turnovers, did not help the Blueshirts either.
“Things can change fast,” Lundqvist said of the Rangers’ ninth-place standing in the East. “We’re right there, but there’s not much time left. Our level of urgency and energy has to be at peak levels every game.”
Certainly, Lundqvist’s effort and performance on Tuesday can not be questioned. Lundqvist turned in another terrific start in goal, making 32 saves. The only two goals he surrendered came off deflections, including the game-winner off teammate Artem Anisimov
’s skate, plus there was an empty-net score.
also provided a boost to the Rangers. Playing with grit, fire, and skill, Avery had a second straight strong outing after being benched last Friday in Atlanta. Avery notched his third goal in two games, racked up 17 penalty minutes, and was a thorn in Montreal’s collective side all night long.
“We need all the guys to play with that kind of energy and urgency,” said Lundqvist. “The last two games, he’s been really good for us, but we need everyone to play at that level of energy.”
Team captain Chris Drury
also has played very well as of late. Drury, who assisted on Avery’s goal on Tuesday, now has five points (all assists) in the past three games. And shut-down defenseman Marc Staal
has continually been a pillar of strength on the blueline.
But, as Lundqvist indicated, the Rangers need more from everybody on the roster if they are going to earn a fifth consecutive playoff berth.
“We have 12 big ones here and we want to solidify a spot,” said rookie defenseman Matt Gilroy
. “Hopefully we can get on a roll. Coming into (tonight) against a good, physical team, it’ll be a good test. I think we’ll be ready for it.”
The Blues are 4-3-0 since the Olympic break, although they have lost their last two games. Tied for 11th place in the West, the Blues are in more dire straights than the Rangers are in the East. Whereas the Rangers are three points behind the Boston Bruins for the eighth and final playoff spot, the Blues are three teams and seven points out of a playoff seed in the West.
Team president John Davidson, the former Rangers’ goalie and television analyst, has assembled a hard-nosed club that spreads its scoring around and does not feature one or two clear star players.
Earlier this season the Blues skated to a 4-1 win over the Rangers in St. Louis on Jan. 16. The Blueshirts have posted a sub-.500 record (7-9-1) against Western Conference teams this season.
“We’re going to be up to our elbows in it (tonight),” said winger Jody Shelley. “But to have these fans behind us, I mean they’re great. They are so passionate. It’s a big lift for us.”
The Rangers hit the road following this evening’s contest, and they will skate against the eighth-place Bruins on Sunday afternoon. Should the Rangers win tonight and the Bruins lose to Pittsburgh in regulation, eighth place itself will be at stake on Sunday. Either way, it will be a tremendously important game for both clubs as it is the final regular-season tilt between the eighth and ninth- place teams this season.