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• Game Notes
• Notebook: Del Zotto in for Girardi; Prust Expects to Play
• Get Tickets to Tuesday's Game at The Garden
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
The Rangers head into Washington tonight to play the Capitals at the Verizon Center for the final game of their three-game road trip, knowing they will do so without seven of their regulars in the lineup, and possibly with one or two other key contributors missing, as well.
Already playing without their leading scorer, Brandon Dubinsky, and alternate captain Ryan Callahan among others, the Rangers may be missing either defenseman Dan Girardi or gritty forward Brandon Prust -- or both -- this evening.
Yet as the injuries pile up, the Rangers do not use them as an excuse for not performing to their utmost level, instead showing their true collective character by banding together and rising up against the mounting obstacles.
“That’s what I like about this team, we take nothing for granted and just work hard every night no matter the circumstances,” said goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. “The character of the players in this room is exceptional. Everyone is willing to work hard. We may not be the most skilled team, but we are always willing to work. It’s a good feeling knowing we have guys like that and that everyone is a part of it.”
The latest example of this took place on Saturday night in Atlanta, where the Rangers erased a one-goal deficit in the third period to skate to a 3-2 shootout victory over the Thrashers after both Girardi and Prust were sidelined with injuries during the game.
Both players -- each an important cog in the team -- are listed as out of the lineup on a day-to-day basis, meaning one or both could play tonight, or one or both could be scratched. Girardi has a muscle injury in his rib cage area which makes it difficult for him to do most upper-body hockey-related movements. Prust, who had been playing with a sore shoulder already, injured his foot blocking a shot, with x-rays following the game proving to be negative.
“Seeing how both of those guys wanted to stay in the game even after they were hurt is amazing,” said center Brian Boyle, who scored the tying goal late in the third period on Saturday. “And Prust, my linemate, is something else. He’s a warrior, and it’s an honor to play with him.”
Since the Rangers did not practice on Sunday, today will be the first time since the game against the Thrashers for Girardi and Prust to test out their injuries on the ice, if they are even able to do so. In case either or both are unable to play tonight, the Rangers recalled defenseman Michael Del Zotto and forward Evgeny Grachev from the Connecticut Whale, with both of those youngsters meeting up with the club at Washington on Sunday afternoon.
Del Zotto returns to the Rangers after being sent down to the Whale on Jan. 3. In eight games in the AHL, Del Zotto notched seven points -- all assists -- and had a four-game point-scoring streak at the time of his recall.
Grachev comes up to the Rangers riding his hottest stretch of play this season. The talented Russian recorded his first professional hat trick on Saturday night for the Whale, and he has scored six goals in his last three games. On the season, Grachev has 12 goals and 18 points in 40 games for Connecticut.
“With all the injuries different guys are getting a chance to step up, and they are doing exactly that,” said Rangers head coach John Tortorella. “We play as a team. I really like that about this particular group. We play hard, and we play as a team.”
Del Zotto and Grachev join a host of other players recently called up from Connecticut on the current Rangers’ roster, including Mats Zuccarello -- who scored another shootout-winning goal in Atlanta -- Kris Newbury, Ryan McDonagh, Chad Kolarik, and Brodie Dupont.
“I know for me I treat every shift like it’s my last,” said Newbury. “It’s exciting to get the opportunity, and that (Tortorella) is liking what he sees in me and my game. That is very rewarding. But at the same time it’s just a little stepping stone because for me to continue playing well is a huge thing.”
Tonight the Rangers face the Capitals for the first time since Dec. 12, a game the Rangers dominated en route to a 7-0 victory at Madison Square Garden. The Rangers come in with 59 points, good for seventh place in the Eastern Conference. They have won six of their last 10 games, and are second in the league with 16 road victories.
Washington sits in fifth place in the East with 62 points. Their 16 wins on home ice are tied for first in the NHL.
“This is a very difficult stretch for us here before the (All-Star) break,” said Lundqvist. “It doesn’t matter who we have in or out of the lineup, these are crucial games and we have to treat them as such.”
The Rangers’ grueling stretch of five-games-in-seven-nights concludes on Tuesday, when they host the Florida Panthers at MSG, the final game before the six-day break in their regular-season schedule.
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