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• NEW: Gaborik Takes Part in Morning Skate
• Tonight's Game Notes
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
No matter the circumstances, tonight’s game between the Rangers and Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia would be an important early-season test between two fierce Atlantic Division rivals.
But considering the fact that their last visit to Philly in the 82nd and final game of the 2009-10 season ended with the Flyers celebrating a shootout victory and a trip to the playoffs as the seventh seed in the conference, while the Rangers dejectedly headed into the off-season -- falling just one point shy of that final Eastern Conference playoff berth -- only raises the bar on the intensity level of this evening’s game.
“I’d say revenge is the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of this game,” said defenseman Michael Del Zotto. “The guys that are here from last year know how heartbreaking it was, the way our season finished there in Philly. It feels just like yesterday that it happened even though it was quite a few months ago. That memory doesn’t go away.”
Throughout training camp and the start of a strong regular season, many Rangers who were also with the team on April 11 have stated that falling short in that game to the Flyers has served as an important, and painful, inspiration for this season.
Although, in reality, it was much more than losing that one game which cost the Blueshirts a playoff spot, that last contest against the Flyers has become the symbol for what the Rangers do not want this season to become.
“It’s going to remind us a little bit when we go back to that building because that was a very special game that ended up a long year and was a tough deal,” said goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. “We’ll probably think about (that final game) when we come down in the morning, but then we’ll start looking forward and focus on (Thursday’s) game.”
The Rangers and Flyers were even in points with 86 after a huge Blueshirts victory over Philadelphia at Madison Square Garden in the 81st, and next-to-last game, on April 9. After scoring the first goal of the game two nights later in Philly, the Rangers surrendered a third-period goal to force overtime. When five minutes passed, and the game was still tied 1-1, the Rangers’ and Flyers’ seasons would be decided in a shootout.
Despite 46 saves that afternoon from Lundqvist, the Rangers lost the shootout to finish one point out of eighth place, starting a long summer of soul-searching by the entire organization.
“I guess I’d be lying if I said I didn’t remember the lost feeling in that building,” said winger Brandon Prust. “That was a very tough day for us. So it’s something you learn from as a team and we’re looking forward to getting the rivalry started again.”
Both teams enter tonight’s game playing sound hockey. The Rangers are coming off an exciting 3-2 victory over the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks on Monday, and have won two in a row and five of their past seven. The Flyers have won four in a row and five of their last six games.
“I think we are heading in the right direction as far as how we have to play,” said Rangers head coach John Tortorella. “It’s going to be a great matchup, and everyone loves going there to play. But it’s still about us. We need to play a certain way to achieve success and I think we are headed in the right direction as far as that is concerned.”
The Rangers received a mild scare near the end of practice on Wednesday when Lundqvist was struck in the neck by a Brian Boyle slap shot. Lundqvist felt immediate pain, had trouble breathing, and felt dizzy, but he regrouped in the trainer’s room and said later on that, though his neck was a bit stiff, he was fine.
Tortorella, who confirmed that Lundqvist should be good to play tonight, also stated that winger Ryan Callahan, who missed practice Wednesday after receiving stitches in his ankle during Monday’s game, would also be able to play this evening.
Callahan has recorded points in seven consecutive games, the longest such streak of his career, after assisting on both of Brandon Dubinsky’s goals against Chicago on Monday. Members of the top line -- comprised of Callahan, Dubinsky, and Artem Anisimov -- have accounted for five of the team’s last eight goals.
“In order for us to be successful we have to make sure we have that energy and that work ethic because we are not going to get by on talent alone,” said Dubinsky, who leads the team with seven goals. “But when we put those things together, we have enough talent to get some points and score some goals.”
In winning five of their last six games, the Flyers have outscored their opponents 25-12. During their four-game winning streak rookie goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky has a .934 save percentage and a 2.00 goals against average.
With such strong play at both ends of the ice it, is no surprise that the Flyers, who reached the Stanley Cup Finals last spring, currently sit atop the Atlantic with 15 points, though only two better than the Rangers. A win tonight would put the Rangers in first place in the Atlantic Division for the first time since Oct. 18, 2009.
“I think it’s a great building to play in, it’s down the street from us here, and it’s a division game,” said Tortorella. “I think if the players aren’t excited about going in there to play then there aren’t too many other places they can be excited for. We’ll be ready to play.”
Immediately after the game tonight, the Rangers will head back up to New Jersey where they will skate in Newark against the Devils in another division battle on Friday night.
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