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• Game Notes
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
Mere moments after scoring the overtime winner in Pittsburgh on Friday night, Rangers’ center Olli Jokinen was already setting his sights on this afternoon’s contest against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Madison Square Garden.
“It was a big win, but we’ve got to move on and stay focused,” said Jokinen after scoring 1:02 into overtime to lift the Rangers past the Penguins 3-2. “We’ve got to put this game behind and get two points Sunday. Every game is crucial. This game is over now, so now we must focus on the next game.”
Jokinen, a former captain with the Florida Panthers, certainly set a very professional workmanlike tone in the Mellon Arena dressing room on Friday night. The two points just earned were hugely important, but not more important than the pair on the line today in the Rangers’ final contest before the Olympic break.
It is an approach that Jokinen and his teammates wore well following one of the most memorable Rangers’ victories of the season.
Forced to play much of the night without the injured Marian Gaborik and Michael Del Zotto -- both of whom started the contest, but could not make it out of the first period -- the Rangers banded together and played with passion and grit in beating the defending Stanley Cup champions, and doing so on the road.
“When something like that happens, you lose two key guys, you worry about exactly what’s going to happen to your hockey club,” said Rangers head coach John Tortorella. “But they pulled together. We had some big plays at key times, some big saves at key times, and we found a way to win.”
Neither Gaborik nor Del Zotto will be able to play in this afternoon’s contest. Gaborik just did not have the requisite strength in his leg trying to return from a 21-stitch gash in his right thigh on Friday night, and he will miss his fourth game of the season today. Del Zotto suffered a 50-stitch laceration on his upper torso when he fell on Evgeni Malkin’s skate blade Friday, and he has been ruled out of today’s action, as well.
“Injuries are a part of the game, but those two guys are really important to us,” said alternate captain Vinny Prospal. “To replace Marian is almost impossible, for example. “But that just makes the team play a little more tighter and with a little more grit.”
Defenseman Corey Potter has been recalled from Hartford to take Del Zotto’s place in the lineup, and newcomer Jody Shelley will replace Gaborik as the Rangers try to close out with another important win prior to the upcoming two-week break.
The 26-year-old Potter, who played in five games with the Rangers last season, will be appearing in his second NHL contest this year. He logged just over eight minutes of ice-time in the Rangers 2-1 loss to Nashville on Wednesday night.
Shelley was acquired by the Rangers from the San Jose Sharks for a conditional draft pick on Friday afternoon. He joined the club and practiced with his new teammates on Saturday, and Tortorella said Shelley will make his Blueshirts’ debut today.
To make room for Shelley on the roster, the Rangers sent the veteran enforcer Donald Brashear down to Hartford after he cleared waivers. Like Brashear, Shelley is a feared pugilist, having accumulated 1,310 penalty minutes in 517 NHL games with the Sharks and Columbus Blue Jackets.
“It’s important for us to be a tough team to play against,” said the Rangers’ other alternate captain, Ryan Callahan.
This afternoon’s contest is a big one for both teams. The Rangers enter play with 61 points, two fewer than the Lightning, who are just one point outside the playoff picture at ninth in the Eastern Conference. The Rangers have split two games against their coach’s former team so far this year, running away to an 8-2 victory at The Garden in the last meeting on Jan. 19.
The Lightning, who dropped a 5-4 decision to the Islanders on Saturday afternoon, have lost two games in a row after winning their previous four. The Rangers have won two of their last three and are 3-3-0 in their last six games.
“We need to be desperate here and treat these games like playoff games,” said center Brandon Dubinsky. “We’re in a fight for our lives to get into the playoffs, and we have to step up our game.”
After today’s game the Rangers will not play again until they skate against the Senators in Ottawa on March 2. In the interim five players on the Rangers roster --Chris Drury and Callahan (the United States), Henrik Lundqvist (Sweden), Gaborik (Slovakia), and Jokinen (Finland) -- are set to participate in the Olympics.
|M. St. Louis||61||22||49||71||+2||10||7||6|
|M. Del Zotto||61||6||20||26||-18||30||3||1|