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• Game Notes
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
Tonight’s game between the Rangers and Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre has all the trappings of an exciting night of hockey -- a midwinter duel between a pair of Original Six rivals battling for playoff positioning in the Eastern Conference in a charged-up atmosphere which will air nationally up north on “Hockey Night in Canada”.
Just don’t tell Rangers head coach John Tortorella that there is anything different or more special about this game than the other 81 on the club’s regular-season schedule.
“We know how important the game is because it’s a team we are fighting with as far as those top eight spots, but we don’t talk too much about that stuff,” said Tortorella following Friday’s up-tempo practice back in New York. “It’s each day at a time, and no matter where we are or who we are playing, we’re trying to be the best we can be.”
Coming off, perhaps, their biggest win of the season -- a 1-0 shutout of the league-leading Vancouver Canucks – on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden, the Rangers enter play this evening having won four of their last five games. Their only loss in the span was a 2-1 defeat at the hands of these very same Canadiens on Tuesday at MSG.
“To me the most important thing we did was to come back and respond after (Tuesday’s) tough loss,” goaltender Henrik Lundqvist said about Thursday’s victory. “Every night is a tough night in this league, but to come back and get those two points was really big, I think.”
Lundqvist, who is headed to his second NHL All-Star Game in two weeks, earned his 30th career shutout by stopping all 31 shots he faced on Thursday. He is currently tied with John Ross Roach for third on the Rangers’ all-time shutouts list, trailing only Ed Giacomin and Dave Kerr.
Only Tim Thomas of the Bruins has as many shutouts this season as Lundqvist, who has six. And the shutouts only tell part of the story, as Lundqvist currently ranks third in the league with a .927 save percentage, sixth with a 2.25 goals against average, and sixth with 19 victories. He is 5-1-1 in his last seven starts, allowing just 10 goals in that span.
“Hank always seems to be there to make those big saves, because there are going to be breakdowns along the way, and we need him there for us,” said defenseman Dan Girardi. “I think we feed off that, too. He makes a big save and then we try and go get (a goal) for him. We want to reward him because he picks us up time after time.”
While clearly Lundqvist is the backbone of the Rangers’ success, Tortorella is most impressed with how the team has received contributions from everyone on the roster. In particular, of late during their 4-1-0 run, the entire team has been working extremely diligently in all three zones, with the club’s defensive play certainly standing out the most.
“We have been defending very well, and I think if you are going to get where you want to be at the end of the year that’s a big part,” said Tortorella. “We’re getting a lot of practice at it playing these close games, but I think that’s a positive.”
As far as the team’s recent offensive struggles -- only 10 goals scored the last seven games -- Tortorella sees signs that the Rangers are ready to break out soon. Chief among his reasons is that the club is working so hard and that the scoring chances have been increasing game by game.
“I think our goals will come because we are generating chances,” said the head coach. “I think (Marian Gaborik) is coming, he’s real close. And I think the new guy (Wojtek Wolski) coming in here will help us. We just have to stay with it and defend first.”
Wolski scored the only goal in Thursday’s win -- his first as a Ranger after being acquired in a trade with Phoenix on Monday. A two-time 20-goal scorer at the age of 24, Wolski clearly has the skill and pedigree to give the Rangers a big shot in the arm offensively.
“Coming here has been about having fun, enjoying myself, and playing hockey because I love it,” said Wolski. “I am here to create opportunities and score some goals, and I am happy it’s been working out that way.”
The Rangers come into play tonight with 55 points, good for sixth place in the East. They are four points ahead of the seventh place Canadiens, who have one game in hand on the Blueshirts, making this evening’s tilt a very important one.
Interestingly, the Rangers are closer to first place in the conference than they are to ninth, and being out of a playoff seed. The Rangers trail the first place Flyers -- whom they will host at The Garden on Sunday night -- by only six points, and they are seven points up on Carolina, which sits in ninth place in the Eastern Conference.
“I think the guys know exactly how hard we have to play in order to win,” said Tortorella. “It’s been a successful formula for us this year, and it’s an identity we have tried to create from the get-go. And they are being rewarded.”
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