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• Game Notes
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
So upset were Rangers’ coaches and players with the team’s unacceptable effort against the Islanders during a Dec. 16 contest at Madison Square Garden that a team meeting was convened in order to help put the club back on the right track.
Now as the Rangers are set to once again host the Islanders at The Garden this evening, the Blueshirts have turned their collective game around, winning four in a row since that team meeting.
“I want to believe that talk was good in many ways,” said goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who helped organize the players-only meeting.
It seems fairly certain that the meeting had a positive impact on the Rangers’ recent play, with wins over the Islanders, Flyers, Hurricanes, and Panthers following in succession prior to the Christmas holiday.
“We were talking of playing with a little more emotion, getting more involved physically,” said Lundqvist. “It doesn’t matter what kind of system you use or how you want to play if you don’t have that to start with.”
Lundqvist has backed up his words and shown true leadership on the ice by playing, perhaps, his best hockey of the season over the past four games. Backed by Lundqvist’s brilliant play in goal, the Rangers have allowed only five goals during their current four-game winning streak.
Amazingly, Lundqvist has stopped 136 of the 141 shots he has faced during the past four contests. And, arguably, the most important 20 minutes he has played all season took place on Dec. 17 at the Nassau Coliseum, the evening after the ugly 2-1 Garden loss to the Isles.
With words spoken in the team meeting still resounding in their ears, the Rangers were largely overwhelmed by a hungry Islanders team at the start of the first period. Lundqvist turned in one sensational save after another until his team eventually found its footing, took the lead, and skated to a 5-2 victory.
“He is a professional at all times, no matter the situation,” Marian Gaborik said of Lundqvist. “He gives us so much confidence out on the ice.”
The Rangers proceeded on to road victories in Philadelphia and Carolina, before defeating the Florida Panthers 4-1 at MSG on Wednesday night, the club’s first home win in exactly one month.
The best thing about the win streak, according to head coach John Tortorella, is that the Rangers are playing better, with more complete all-around performances in each game.
“We’re working really hard, and smart, out there right now,” said Lundqvist. “And now the bounces are going our way.”
The Rangers, who struggled mightily to score goals -- especially from players other than Gaborik, the league-leader with 26 on the season -- through November and most of December, have netted 14 during the win streak.
Vinny Prospal scored a pair in Wednesday’s win over the Panthers, his first in 15 games. Chris Drury has three goals in four games, while Artem Anisimov has two in four. And Ryan Callahan is 4-5-9 in the past seven matches.
“I think it comes from being embarrassed that night against the Islanders,” said Prospal. “We had a team meeting, and there was some stuff said that things needed to change or there might be changes in the locker room. I think since then we’ve been playing a little more disciplined hockey and we’ve been scoring a little more.”
Now tonight the Rangers face the Islanders for the third time in 11 days, and for the fourth time this season. The Isles have won two of the first three meetings, and currently trail the Rangers by only four points in the standings.
The Rangers enter play this evening in a three-way tie for eighth place in the Eastern Conference with Florida and Montreal. All three teams have 39 points.
The Islanders are coming off a 3-1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Coliseum on Wednesday night, a victory that snapped a three-game losing skid. The Rangers will have to be prepared as no matter the respective records, the Islanders always come out and play hard against their local rivals.
“There’s no surprise to how they play against us, ever,” said Lundqvist. “We know they will come out hard, especially in the first period, and we have to be ready for that.”
Following this evening’s Rangers-Islanders tilt, the Blueshirts continue at home with a contest against the Flyers next Wednesday before traveling down to Carolina to face the Hurricanes on New Year’s Eve at the RBC Center.
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