Goaltending takes center stage for Rangers vs. Flyers
• Game Notes
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
Rangers head coach John Tortorella has stated repeatedly that if the team is going to reach its goals this season, then goaltender Henrik Lundqvist
must be its backbone.
Regardless of whether Lundqvist starts this afternoon when the Rangers play their third game in four days -- hosting the Flyers at Madison Square Garden – the No. 1 goaltender’s importance to the Blueshirts’ long-term success will still hold true for the remainder of the regular season and into the playoffs.
So far this weekend, Lundqvist certainly has looked like the catalyst Tortorella expects to see. On Thursday night he backstopped a 4-3 win over the Kings in an overtime shootout for his 200th career victory -- one that was ultimately decided by his quick glove save on Anze Kopitar’s snap shot in the third and final round of the shootout. One night later, he played one of his best games of the season, making 27 saves in a 1-0 loss in New Jersey.
|It's fairly safe to say that the 2010-11 Rangers will go as far as No. 1 goaltender Henrik Lundqvist can take them in the weeks ahead, particularly as they face tougher opponents like the Flyers today.
“Hank was certainly our best player (Friday) night and gave us an opportunity to try and get our legs underneath us when we weren’t at our best,” said Tortorella.
Lundqvist, who admits to having struggled a bit in the month of February, has started four straight games since Martin Biron
received a pair of starts in Montreal and Detroit on Feb. 5 and 7. Friday’s performance at the Prudential Center -- in which Lundqvist was sharp in all phases of his game, most notably in how he tracked the puck -- was his best in recent memory.
“I feel like my timing and positioning is there, and that I’ve played pretty well,” said Lundqvist. “I feel pretty sharp.”
Lundqvist, who appeared in his second NHL All-Star Game back in January, owns a solid 2.36 goals against average, which is 10th best in the league, and a .921 save percentage that ranks seventh among all goalies. His seven shutouts are tied for the NHL lead with Boston’s Tim Thomas.
Last week Lundqvist said that he felt that his play in the previous two months or so was as strong as he has performed at any point during his six-season NHL career. And he added that the recent small dip in his play was nothing a small alteration or two in his game couldn’t fix.
If Friday was any evidence, then Lundqvist is back at the top of his game.
“Henrik is battling, just like the whole team is, because I don’t think we’re all dead-on our game,” said Tortorella. “But I like the fight in him. And I’ve said this before, if we are going to get to where we want to this season he is going to have to be a big part of it.”
Whether or not Lundqvist starts today against the Flyers is not yet known. With the team playing an afternoon game on the fourth day of a three-in-four stretch, it’s possible that Biron -- 8-6-0 with a 2.13 goals against average and .923 save percentage in 17 appearances -- could start against his former team. That doesn’t change the fact that Lundqvist needs to put together a strong finish to the season.
“This is a crucial time of the year, and I realize that I need to be at my best,” said Lundqvist. “But I feel that with me and Marty in goal we have two really good goaltenders that can get the job done.”
|Brian Boyle and the Rangers have enjoyed success against all of the Atlantic Division teams except Philadelphia this season, as they will look to beat the Flyers for the first time in four tries today.
The Rangers held a quick practice on Saturday to prepare for today’s showdown with the Eastern Conference-leading Flyers, and a familiar face was back on the ice. Working out with his teammates for the first time since mid-January was veteran winger Ruslan Fedotenko
, who wore a non-contact jersey while taking part in line rushes.
Fedotenko has missed 12 straight games since first separating a shoulder on Jan. 19 and then undergoing an appendectomy on Feb. 2. Although he is not ready for a return to the lineup just yet, Fedotenko had been skating on his own, and then on Saturday took a big step forward in the rehab process.
“I am anxious to get him back in there because we miss him,” Tortorella said of Fedotenko. “That goes a little unnoticed, how hard a player he is and how many situations he helps us in. He has been a pretty important player for us.”
On Saturday, Tortorella said the Rangers hoped to have Fedotenko back in the lineup within seven to 10 days.
This afternoon the Rangers will forge on without Fedotenko against a Flyers team that has the most wins in the NHL (38) and the second most points (81). They also lead the league with 19 road victories, and have won five of their last seven games overall despite a 3-2 loss in Carolina on Friday night.
The Rangers have lost all three of their meetings with the Flyers so far this season, including the only clash at MSG, a 3-2 defeat on Jan. 16. Over the previous five seasons, the Rangers have not had a losing season record against Philadelphia.
“This is a tough stretch, a big weekend for us,” said alternate captain Ryan Callahan
. “We have to come out of this with as many points as possible.”
The Rangers hit the road next week to face the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday and Washington Capitals on Friday before hosting the Tampa Bay Lightning at The Garden next Sunday afternoon.