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• Game Notes
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
His 150th career victory and 21st shutout tucked away in his back pocket, Henrik Lundqvist leads the Rangers out west, where they will kick off a three-game swing through the Northwest Conference with a game this evening at GM Place against the Vancouver Canucks.
Lundqvist earned both his 150th win and 21st shutout on Sunday afternoon by blanking the Boston Bruins 1-0 at Madison Square Garden. It was his eighth victory and first shutout of the 2009-10 campaign, one in which he has fashioned an impressive .920 save percentage and 2.48 goals against average, so far.
“150 feels good,” Lundqvist said after his 29-save performance on Sunday. “150 more would feel better.”
Since arriving on Broadway in the fall of 2005, the 27-year-old Lundqvist has turned in four consecutive seasons of 30 or more wins. Last year, he established a career-high by winning 38 games for the Rangers. Along the way he has posted 21 shutouts, including a career-best 10 two seasons ago, and has been a finalist for the Vezina Trophy on three different occasions.
“He is the best goalie in the league,” winger Aaron Voros stated simply and emphatically.
“Hank is our backbone, plain and simple,” added alternate captain Ryan Callahan. “You almost take him for granted because you know he’s going to be back there making all the big saves all of the time.”
Not one of Lundqvist’s 150 victories, however, has come against tonight’s opponent , the Canucks -- a team he has faced only twice in his career. In fact, he has earned only two wins in eight career contests against the three teams the Rangers will skate against on this trip -- the Canucks, Edmonton Oilers, and Calgary Flames -- which will add to the challenge that he and his teammates are facing.
“I think this will be a good challenge for us,” said Lundqvist. “It’s going to be difficult because we are playing three good teams out west.”
The Rangers head out on the trip with a 2-4-1 mark in their previous seven games. They have lost their last three road contests, including a pair of frustrating one-goal defeats to the Montreal Canadiens on Oct. 24 and Minnesota Wild last Friday.
Rangers head coach John Tortorella praised his club, however, after Sunday’s gritty victory over a very physical Bruins club. He liked the way his team cleaned up its play in the neutral and defensive zones, forechecked more aggressively, and remained patient in order to -- in Tortorella’s words -- “grind out a win”.
Tortorella also singled out several players for their gutty efforts on Sunday, including Christopher Higgins, Artem Anisimov, Ales Kotalik, and Callahan. In fact, so pleased was the head coach with Anisimov’s play of late that he promoted the 21-year-old rookie to the top line alongside Marian Gaborik and Vinny Prospal after Enver Lisin hurt his foot blocking a shot.
“I wanted to get Artie some more ice-time because I thought he deserved it because he has been good,” said Tortorella. “He played well.”
Prospal credited Anisimov with providing him and Gaborik the time and space to create the play on which Gaborik scored the only goal of the game in the second period.
“Quite honestly Artem Anisimov gave us those extra two or three seconds by driving down the middle and he pulled the defensemen back,” said Prospal.
As for whether or not Anisimov or Lisin will skate with the Rangers’ top two forwards tonight is not yet known. Tortorella clearly stated that he is not sure how the lines will shake out tonight.
The Rangers did bring 22 players on the trip to Western Canada. Rugged rookie Dane Byers, who was recalled from the minor leagues last Thursday when Higgins, Gaborik, and Sean Avery were unable to play against the Wild due to injury, earned the chance to take part in the road trip by playing effectively in the last two games. He scored his first NHL goal and had three shots on Thursday in Minnesota, and played an efficient game in limited ice-time on Sunday.
“It’s just nice to be here,” Byers said of his opportunity to play at the NHL level.
Tonight, the Rangers face a Canucks team that is coming off a shutout win of their own, a 3-0 victory over the Colorado Avalanche on Sunday. Backup goaltender Andrew Raycroft earned the shutout, with Roberto Luongo sidelined by a rib injury. Luongo’s status for this evening’s contest is still in doubt.
The Canucks are currently 8-7-0 to start the season, overcoming a slow start with five wins in their last seven outings.
Following this evening’s game, the Rangers travel to Edmonton to skate against the Oilers on Thursday night. They will finish the road trip in Calgary against the Flames on Saturday.
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