It's home, sweet home for Rangers vs. Leafs tonight
• Game Notes
• Tuesday's Recap
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
With no time to dwell on Tuesday night’s 5-2 loss up in Buffalo, the Rangers return to Madison Square Garden this evening for the first time in two weeks when they host the Toronto Maple Leafs.
In a precarious spot, sitting in ninth place in the Eastern Conference three points behind Boston and four behind Philadelphia with three games left to play, the Rangers still control their destiny over the final three games and are aware that tonight is an absolute must-win contest.
|Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers have turned in some of their best efforts in the second half of back-to-back games this season. The Blueshirts are 8-2-2 in such situations and 5-1-1 coming off a loss.
“Torts came in (after the game) here and said that it’s unfortunate we didn’t get any points, but that now we have a big game (Wednesday) and we have to get those two points,” defenseman Michael Del Zotto
said following Tuesday’s contest. “We need to get the crowd on our side and put together another winning streak to finish the season.”
The defeat in Buffalo brought to a close a very successful six-game road trip in which the Rangers worked their way back into the playoff picture with an impressive 4-1-1 record. However, with Boston picking up a point with an overtime loss on Monday and the Flyers securing two points with a 2-0 shutout over the Maple Leafs last night, the Rangers find themselves in a very prickly position with three games remaining on their regular season schedule.
Neither the Bruins nor the Flyers play this evening, making a victory crucial for the Rangers. After tonight the Blueshirts will have played 80 games, the same amount as Philadelphia, whom they face in each of the final two games of the season, and one more than Boston.
The Rangers must gain at least a point against the Maple Leafs tonight in order to be in a position to pass Philadelphia in the standings. Regardless of tonight’s result, the Blueshirts will go into the final weekend with a chance to make the playoffs at Boston’s expense.
“We have to make sure we put (Tuesday’s loss) under the mats, even though it’s a tough loss,” offered center Brandon Dubinsky
. “We have to make sure we are focused and excited to come back. It’s been a while since we’ve been home in front of our fans, and we have to be excited and be ready to be there. No doubt in my mind we will.”
Despite being removed from Tuesday night’s match in the second period after surrendering three goals on 16 shots, Henrik Lundqvist
is expected back between the pipes for the Rangers tonight. Prior to the game in Buffalo, Lundqvist had posted a phenomenal 1.63 goals against average, .943 save percentage, and 5-0-1 record in the previous six games.
“You just start thinking about the next game, that’s how you move on,” said Lundqvist. “We don’t have another way to go (Wednesday) than two points.”
Yet again on Tuesday night many of the Rangers’ best players were those who skated on the third and fourth lines. In particular the line of Artem Anisimov
, Brandon Prust
, and Jody Shelley stood out. Prust scored a goal for the third consecutive game and Anisimov played a tremendously inspired game, finishing with an assist and a team-high six shots on goal.
“I don’t know that we even can call them third or fourth lines or which one’s which now,” said Rangers head coach John Tortorella. “I think Artie has really settled in and seems so much more comfortable now. The additions of Shelley and Prust were great deals for us. They’ve added an intangible, made us a tougher team. Shelley brings an intangible in the locker room as far as leadership. It’s been a really good line that that we’ve played against all different lines.”
In his last seven games, Anisimov has recorded two goals, two assists, and four points. Prust has goals in three straight and is 3-1-4 in six. And Shelley has four assists in the last seven matches.
“I think you look at any team when it becomes crunch time it’s the depth players or role players that make contributions to put the team over the edge and achieve certain things,” said winger Aaron Voros. “I don’t think it’s any different in here. This time of year a lot of the goals come from grinding and hard-work areas. And that’s what players like us are best at.”
Following this evening’s critical contest at The Garden, the Rangers will face the Flyers in a huge home-and-home set to close out the 2009-10 regular season. The home finale at MSG will played on Friday night, and the curtain closes on the regular season Sunday afternoon at the Wachovia Center.