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• Game Notes
• Weise Called Up from Connecticut
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
Exactly one week ago, following a difficult loss in Columbus, Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist looked ahead at the coming week and admitted to himself that it was going to be a very difficult one for him and his team.
In playing four games over seven days, and going up against three of the most elite teams in the entire National Hockey League, Lundqvist knew that he and his teammates would be facing a crucial test.
The Rangers have thus far passed the test with flying colors. This afternoon at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia, they look to finish off a perfect week of victories when they skate against the league-leading Flyers.
“After that game Saturday I was just thinking that here we are after a tough loss with a tough week ahead of us,” said Lundqvist. “But to see how we’ve responded in playing three very good, high-quality teams, so far, is exciting. Now we go into this game playing one of the best teams in the league feeling really good about ourselves.”
The week started with a 7-0 demolition of Alex Ovechkin and the Southeast Division-leading Capitals last Sunday at Madison Square Garden. It continued with an inspiring four-goal third-period rally in a 4-1 road win in Pittsburgh against Sidney Crosby and a Penguins team that had just recently won 12 games in a row on Wednesday. And most recently it featured another third-period rally en-route to a 4-3 home-ice shootout victory over the tough Phoenix Coyotes on Thursday night.
The three consecutive wins equal the Rangers’ longest such streak of the season. They had won three in a row twice previously.
“You know, we haven’t had any long winning streaks this season, but we’ve been winning consistently,” said Lundqvist. “We win a couple games, maybe lose one, win a couple more. Before you know it we’ve won a lot more than we’ve lost. The key is that we have avoided losing streaks.”
Lundqvist is right about that. After an 0-2-1 stretch very early in October, the Rangers have not lost more than two games in a row all season. The Rangers enter play having won eight of their last 11 games, and their overall record is an impressive 20-13-1 through 34 games.
“We have quite a few character wins, and that helps build confidence in one another,” said defenseman Dan Girardi. “It’s just a different feel at the start of this year. The team is playing hard every night, and everyone is doing everything they can to help the team win. Guys are doing things outside their comfort zone to help the team win. I think that’s why we are where we are right now.”
One of the things the Rangers have done extremely well this season has been to persevere despite a rash of injuries to key players on their roster. Alternate captain Ryan Callahan is the club’s latest casualty, having suffered a broken hand blocking a shot in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, and he will miss six to eight weeks of action. However, his teammates have forged ahead and won twice without his important help already this week.
To help the team fill the void left by Callahan’s absence, the Rangers recalled winger Dale Weise from the AHL’s Connecticut Whale on Friday. Weise, a gritty fourth-round pick of the Blueshirts in 2008, has 11 points (6-5-11) in 12 games for the Whale this year after scoring 28 goals and producing 50 points for the Rangers’ top farm team in Hartford a year ago.
“I think he will probably play in Philly,” said Rangers head coach John Tortorella. “We’re looking for some jam on that fourth line. I like him, and I thought he had a good camp. He’s been banged up a little bit, but now he’s healthy, and we’ve had good reports on him. Having him bang on the right wing of the fourth line going into Philly? Yeah that’s a good thing to have.”
In the Flyers the Rangers face a deeply-talented team that currently sits atop the NHL with 47 points, six better than the Blueshirts. Philly has scored a league-best 113 goals in 33 games, and they are 6-0-1 overall their previous seven contests.
At the Wachovia Center the Flyers are 11-5-2, the third best home-ice record in the league that includes a 4-1 win over the Rangers back on Nov. 4.
“Philly is the best team in the league points-wise so, obviously, they are the measuring stick right now for teams going in to play them,” said Girardi, whose 19 points is tops among all Rangers defensemen. “We have to make sure we have the same effort we’ve been having recently and make sure we have a good start there.”
The Rangers will catch somewhat of a break in that Philly’s top defenseman, veteran Chris Pronger, will miss the game after the team announced on Friday that he will be undergoing surgery on his right foot and will miss four to six weeks of action.
Even without Pronger, the Flyers have a very deep roster. They have a league-high five players who have scored at least 10 goals already this season, including former Blueshirt winger Nikolay Zherdev who has 11.
“They’ve been hot, so it’s going to be a big game before we have four days without a game,” said Marian Gaborik, who has 19 points in 21 games. “We’ve been playing well, so we need to come out strong and bring back two points.”
As Gaborik noted, once this busy stretch concludes this afternoon, the Rangers do not play again until next Thursday at The Garden when they host the Lightning. And that contest will be the only one they play over an eight-day stretch before returning to MSG on Dec. 27 to host the Islanders.
“This is a great challenge, playing one of the best teams in the league right now,” said Lundqvist. “We have a little break here after this game, so it would be a very good feeling to finish off this week with another big win.”
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