Local rivalry adds more drama to playoff race tonight
|Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist has won two-thirds of his starts against the Islanders over the past four seasons, including the last three Rangers-Islanders games played at Madison Square Garden.
|RANGERS ON DEMAND
|Tortorella's Post-Practice Remarks on Monday
|McCabe, Staal, Dubinsky Discuss Tonight's Game
• Game Notes
• Fischler: No Shortage of Storylines for Tonight
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
After a week spent on the road out in California, the Rangers return home to play four of their next five games at Madison Square Garden, beginning with this evening’s clash with the Islanders.
The Rangers have 21 road victories this season -- tied for fourth most in the entire league. However, they are just 15-16-3 on home ice, although their most recent game at The Garden was an impressive 7-0 thrashing of the Flyers back on March 6.
“This is a good time turn it around here at home,” said defenseman Michael Sauer
. “Maybe we haven’t been quite as good here as on the road, and I think if there is any time to figure that out, we have a great opportunity to do that now. I think the boys are excited about doing that, as well as the chance to get back in front of The Garden fans again and show them what we can do.”
Following Saturday’s exciting 3-2 win in San Jose, the Rangers enter play tonight tied for seventh place in the Eastern Conference with the Buffalo Sabres. Both teams have 76 points, although Buffalo has a game in hand, and are four points clear of ninth-place Carolina.
Overall, the Rangers have won three of their last four games since being swept on a three-game homestand two weeks ago.
“We just haven’t gotten the results at home,” said Rangers head coach John Tortorella. “There have been games we didn’t play well, just like on the road, and there have been games where we’ve played well but didn’t win. But especially this time of the year, it doesn’t matter where we are playing, it’s about being ready and concentrating on how we have to play.”
Coming off a terrific 31-save outing on Saturday, goaltender Henrik Lundqvist
will make his 15th consecutive start this evening. Lundqvist, who is the league leader in shutouts this season with nine, has appeared in 35 games lifetime against the Islanders and has posted a 20-9-5 record and 2.11 goals against average to go along with three shutouts against the Rangers’ longstanding rival.
In his last four starts overall Lundqvist is 3-1-0 with a 1.96 goals against average.
“As long as we play hard every night, we are always going to have a chance to win because of our goalie,” said defenseman Bryan McCabe
. “Hank is one of the best and he’s really been coming up big for us lately.”
McCabe, the 35-year-old veteran blueliner whom the Rangers acquired from Florida two days before the NHL trading deadline, has also played an important role since coming to the Blueshirts. Manning the point on the team’s top power play unit, he has given the Rangers a trigger man with a heavy shot from the blueline, something the club has not had in recent memory.
|At 35, defenseman Bryan McCabe is thrilled to be a part of the Rangers-Islanders rivalry again. The last time he played in a Rangers-Islanders game was as a 22-year-old member of the Isles on Nov. 26, 1997.
The outgoing McCabe has also fit seamlessly into the locker room, accepted quickly and completely by his teammates.
“I like him because he’s an old-school guy,” Tortorella said of McCabe. “I think for our kids, as young as we are, it’s good to have someone like him around. I’m not with them off the ice, but I can still see how he has joined in with the boys. I think he plays hard, too. He wears it, and I just like the look about him. He’s a gamer, and he’s been good for our club.”
McCabe, who was a second round pick of the Islanders back in 1993, has taken part in the Rangers’ rivalry with their Long Island counterparts as a member of the Islanders from the 1995-96 season through 1997-98. Tonight he will see this rivalry from the Rangers’ perspective for the first time.
“Some of the games you just get chills going down your spine,” McCabe said of the Rangers-Islanders matchup. “You know there’s going to be a big crowd on both sides and both teams will be up for it. It’s been a heated rivalry for many years, and I’m just glad to be a part of it again.”
Having played with the Islanders, McCabe is well aware that the 14th-place Isles would love nothing better than to mess with the seventh-place Rangers’ playoff bid, both tonight and in their final meeting this season on March 31 at the Nassau Coliseum.
“It’s a little added incentive for them, for sure,” said McCabe. “And for some fans it’s even more so. Some fans only care if you beat the Islanders or the Rangers all year long. But we just have to stick to our game plan and do what we do best.”
As for Tortorella, predictably, he is not concerned about who the opponent is this evening, only that his club secures another vital win.
“(The Islanders) are playing really good hockey, but we just need to worry about ourselves, take each day at a time in such short strokes here, and concentrate on our own game,” said the head coach.
The Isles have earned points in seven straight games (4-0-3) and have received a lift from goaltender Al Montoya, the former first-round pick of the Rangers. Montoya is 7-2-3 with a 2.09 goals against average in 13 games since being recalled from the minor leagues.
The Rangers have won three of the first four meetings with the Islanders this season, including a 7-2 victory back on Dec. 27 at MSG.
“They’re going to play hard, that’s for sure,” Sauer said of the Islanders. “We just need to come out and have a good start, get the momentum on our side right away because there’s going to be a lot of energy in that building and both sides are gonna’ be going. We just have to keep building it shift after shift throughout the game.”
After this evening’s contest, the Rangers return to action on Friday night when they host the Montreal Canadiens at The Garden.