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• Game Notes
• Wednesday Recap: Rangers Crush Isles
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
Although it took place less than 24 hours ago, their 5-0 dismantling of the Islanders last night is a distant memory for the Rangers as they prepare for this evening’s clash with the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center.
“We’ll have to be better in every way, every facet of the game (tonight),” said Rangers head coach John Tortorella following this morning’s optional team skate in Newark. “Honestly, the New Jersey Devils are a better hockey team (than the Islanders). It’s going to be a closer checking game; there’s going to be more things for us to fight through as to create offense; we’re going to have to defend better. They are where they are in the standings because they are that good.”
While last night’s opponent sits in 14th place overall in the Eastern Conference, tonight’s foe is among the league’s elite. The Devils have 90 points, one behind the Pittsburgh Penguins for first place in the Atlantic Division and second overall in the conference. With a win tonight and an Atlanta loss to Toronto, the Devils would clinch a playoff berth for the 13th consecutive season.
For the Rangers to keep their hopes alive for a fifth straight postseason appearance a win tonight over a very talented Devils team is vital.
“All year we have had games where we played really well and showed that we’re a good team,” said goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who earned his third shutout and 29th victory of the season with a 27-save effort last night at Madison Square Garden. “The key for us is to try and follow up a good game with another really good game and try to be consistent.”
The Rangers enter play five points behind the Boston Bruins for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East with nine games left to play. Wednesday night’s win snapped a three-game losing skid and allowed the team to catch its breath and relax a bit.
It was not only the two points earned, but the way in which the Rangers so thoroughly dominated the Islanders that has the team feeling good about itself heading into tonight’s contest. The Rangers had a great start -- scoring three times in the opening 8:30 of the game --and poured on the pressure from there, never letting up until the final whistle.
Contributions came from throughout the lineup, with 5-on-5 play just as impressive as special teams play.
“I thought all four lines played really well last night,” said rookie center Artem Anisimov, who scored his 11th goal of the season -- and first in nine games -- last night. “I try to play my best every time, but last night I felt very comfortable. I wasn’t nervous with pressure.”
Anisimov thrived moving to a rejuvenated fourth line with Brian Boyle sidelined because of an undisclosed injury. He, Jody Shelley, and Brandon Prust played effective key minutes, while Enver Lisin was inserted back into the lineup and sparked the third line with five shots on goal in 11 minutes worth of ice time.
“It balances your lineup a little bit with four lines going, especially in a back-to-back situation,” Tortorella said this morning. “I thought (Anisimov) looked more comfortable playing with the couple rugged guys. He just played better. And they were a good line for us.”
The Rangers also received inspired performances from wingers Sean Avery and Ryan Callahan, both of whom were banged up in Boston on Sunday, but dressed and played huge roles on Wednesday night. Avery agitated the Islanders into taking several bad penalties while also contributing an assist. Callahan played a robust physical game despite being questionable right up until game time.
“That’s why he’s wearing a letter,” Tortorella said of Callahan, who will be able to play again this evening against the Devils. “It doesn’t surprise me (how he played despite being hurt). That why as a young man we gave him a letter because that’s what he brings.”
Marian Gaborik also stepped up with a huge performance last night, scoring twice and adding an assist for his ninth game this season of three points or better. Now the head coach is challenging his most talented player to do even more this evening.
“We don’t want to heap it all on him, but he’s our top player offensively and he needs to lead,” Tortorella said of Gaborik who tops the club with 39 goals, 40 assists, and 79 points.
Tonight is the final meeting between the Rangers and Devils this season. The Rangers last visit to Newark was not pretty, a 6-3 defeat 15 days ago in which Lundqvist was pulled from the game in the second period.
The Devils are 5-2-1 in their last eight games and are coming off an impressive win of their own on Tuesday night, a 6-3 shellacking of Columbus. Zach Parise scored twice in that victory, while superstar forward Ilya Kovalchuk broke out with a goal and three assists.
With Parise on one line and Kovalchuk on another, the Rangers are faced with, in essence, trying to shut down two No. 1 lines this evening. It will be one of several tall tasks for them, but ones they will need to overcome to continue their playoff dreams.
Immediately following the game tonight, the Rangers will board a plane and head to Toronto where they will skate against the Maple Leafs on Saturday night.
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