Rangers determined to return home on a high note
|Rangers captain Chris Drury has enjoyed some very magical moments at Buffalo's HSBC Arena over the years, and tonight would be an opportune time to add another to his impressive clutch collection.
|RANGERS ON DEMAND
|Tortorella Post-Practice Remarks on Monday
|Monday's Post-Practice Player Interviews
• Game Notes
• Notebook: Callahan Returns to Practice
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
The Rangers have arrived at the final week of the 2009-10 regular season and have four games over a six-day span to determine whether or not they will take part in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for a fifth consecutive season.
The first of those crucial games is to be played tonight at the HSBC Arena, where the Rangers will face off against the Buffalo Sabres. The Blueshirts then will return home on Wednesday to host the Toronto Maple Leafs before skating in a home-and-home set vs. the Philadelphia Flyers this weekend -- two games that may ultimately decide the playoff fate of both the ninth-place Rangers and the seventh-place Flyers.
“In the East the door has been opened and no one has really closed it,” Rangers head coach John Tortorella said of his team’s playoff chances. “The last few weeks we’ve been climbing the hill. We have been trying to stay within ourselves and get points. And we’re still at that point. We’re not in, and we’re still trying to climb that hill.”
Tortorella’s squad has improved its chances, and put pressure on the two teams immediately ahead of them in the Eastern Conference standings -- the Bruins and Flyers, by posting a 5-0-1 record over the last six games. By earning 11 of a possible 12 points since March 24, the Rangers have put themselves on the precipice of a top-eight playoff spot.
But, so far, the Bruins and Flyers have been able to win just enough to keep the Rangers out of one of the postseason spots. Tortorella and his players know that the only way to keep applying pressure is to keep winning, something they will attempt to do again this evening in Buffalo.
“I think the way we have played recently really shows our will to win,” said winger Aaron Voros, who is on a three-game point-scoring streak (1-2-3). “We want to keep this good thing we have going and going. We can’t control anything else, but what we do every game.”
In their current three-game winning streak -- and over the past six successful outings -- the Rangers have consistently received contributions from up and down the entire lineup. Voros has been a force since returning to the lineup four games ago, and unsung players like Brandon Prust
(game-winning goals in back-to-back games), Jody Shelley (three assists in the last six games), PA Parenteau (1-1-2 in four since being recalled from Hartford), and Anders Eriksson (steady play on defense) have stepped up in a big way down the stretch.
It hasn’t hurt at all that team stalwarts like Henrik Lundqvist
, Marian Gaborik
, and Marc Staal
, among others, have shined, as well. Staal, for instance, has not only been a tower of strength on defense, he has also scored a goal in three straight games for the first time in his NHL career.
“I think defensively he has been great for us all year,” team captain Chris Drury
said of Staal. “But certainly the offensive boost he has given us recently has been huge, too.”
Quite possibly the Rangers will receive a different type of boost this evening. Alternate captain Ryan Callahan
, who has been sidelined with an injured left knee the past four games, practiced for the first time in nearly two weeks on Monday. He is planning on skating this morning and, if all goes well, he could return to the lineup against the Sabres.
“I am pretty desperate (to return to the lineup),” Callahan said on Monday. “It’s been tough sitting out and watching the team. I can’t wait to come back and, hopefully, it’s soon. I just want contribute and help the team get into the playoffs.”
When asked after practice if he thought Callahan would play on Tuesday night, Tortorella responded quickly, “If Cally can play, he’s playing.”
If Callahan is not able to play, there is the chance that rookie winger Dale Weise
will make his NHL debut tonight. The 21-year-old Weise, who has scored 28 goals in Hartford this season, was recalled on Sunday, taking the place of Corey Locke, who was returned to the Wolf Pack after playing three games with the Rangers.
“The guys who have come up from Hartford have really helped us,” said Callahan. “I think the biggest thing I see in the team now from watching these games is that I think we have a sense of desperation that we didn’t have before. And the Hartford guys are fitting right in with that.”
Tonight’s opponent, the Sabres, might not be as desperate as the Rangers since they are already guaranteed a spot in the playoffs. However, they still have something important to play for tonight. The Sabres need to secure two points over their final four games to clinch the Northeast Division title and give themselves either a No. 2 or No. 3 seeding in the Eastern Conference.
A victory this evening on home ice would hand Buffalo the division crown they are seeking.
“They’ve got a good mix of guys and a real tough lineup to play against,” Voros said of the Sabres. “They’ve got some scorers; they’ve got one of the best goalies in the NHL (Ryan Miller); they’ve got a good defense. They are just a real steady team.”
The Rangers are 1-1-1 against the Sabres this season, with all three low-scoring contests decided by one goal. Their only victory in the season series was at the HSBC Arena back on Dec. 5. That night Lundqvist stopped 36 shots in a 2-1 win with Callahan scoring the game-winner.
Tonight’s match will also conclude the Rangers’ six-game road trip. Their only other remaining road contest will be the season finale on Sunday afternoon in Philadelphia.