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• Game Notes
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
In a week that has seen the team get four important players back in the lineup, the Rangers now are looking to get back to their winning ways when they skate against the Montreal Canadiens this afternoon at the Bell Centre.
Despite the return to action of forwards Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky, and Vinny Prospal, as well as defenseman Dan Girardi, the Rangers have come out of the All-Star break with an overtime shootout defeat against Pittsburgh on Tuesday and a 3-2 loss in regulation against the Devils on Thursday. Those two defeats are part of a 0-2-1 three-game winless skid the Rangers carry with them into action today.
“It just has to end,” said winger Marian Gaborik. “We just have to do everything we can to make it end (Saturday). Last year we had some losing streaks that we have avoided this year. So we have to stop this streak (Saturday). This time of year, especially, it’s important to get those points. So it’s very important for us to get back on the winning track.”
The current winless stretch equals the longest for the Rangers this season. They also were 0-2-1 from Oct. 11-18. They have not lost more than two games in a row in regulation time all season long.
In comparison, the Rangers had winless streaks of three games or more on seven different occasions a year ago, including a five-game losing skid from Jan. 21-30, 2010.
“I think we have stayed away from losing streaks because we’ve relied on our structure as a team,” said Rangers head coach John Tortorella. “When you go through a long year, you’re going to have momentum swings, ups and downs. But when you’re having a little struggle as far as getting results, you just stay with your structure and believe in your structure. And I think for the most part we have.”
For the third straight game, the Rangers will have a player return from injury this afternoon as Erik Christensen makes his way back into the lineup. Christensen has been sidelined with a sprained knee since Dec. 29, but Tortorella announced after practice on Friday that he was ready to return to game action.
“He’s a skilled guy, and I know he’s going to add to us,” Tortorella said of Christensen. “The skill he can add to the club is something I think we need. I know he’s excited, and I think he’ll fit right in.”
Christensen said that his knee has felt strong for a couple of weeks, but he needed to get up to speed with his conditioning, which is something he believes he has successfully done.
“It’s exciting,” said Christensen, who skated on a line with Sean Avery and Mats Zuccarello during Friday’s practice. “It’s really hard to be watching from the outside. You really don’t feel a part of what is happening. Now I want to get back in there and help these guys out.”
Christensen will take the place of team captain Chris Drury in the today’s lineup. Drury missed practice on Friday to have his knee examined by the team doctor.
Tortorella did not know the severity of Drury’s injury, only saying that it had been bothering him for several weeks and that it hurt more during Thursday’s contest with the Devils.
“Dru has had a cranky knee, and it’s just progressively getting worse,” said the head coach. “This has been going on for him for a few weeks, and it flared up again (Thursday) night so we just decided to keep him off the ice and have him visit the doctor. I don’t think it’s something that just came on last night. He’s played this game hard for a long time and I think it’s a little bit of wear and tear.”
The good news on Friday -- apart from Christensen’s return to the lineup -- was that Prospal felt “great”, in his words, the day after playing in his first game of the season. Prospal had surgery on his right knee in October and had missed the first 53 games of the season before playing just under 17 minutes against the Devils on Thursday.
In storybook fashion, Prospal -- who created a string of scoring chances for himself and linemates Derek Stepan and Gaborik -- scored a power play goal in the second period, and then dropped to his knees in celebration. It was truly a heartwarming scene for the team and its fans to witness.
“I’m glad he’s feeling good and his knee is holding up, and that he played so well,” Gaborik said of Prospal. “Vinny brings a lot of life in the room, and a lot of experience. Everybody is happy to have him back.”
Gaborik, who scored 42 goals playing mostly on a line with Prospal a year ago, is also happy to reunite on the ice once again with the creative veteran.
“We have really good chemistry, and I think we are kind of on the same wavelength in terms of thinking and making plays,” said Gaborik. “Hopefully we can continue that and just get better and better out there.”
This afternoon’s game is the start to a difficult three-game road trip for the Rangers, who next play in Detroit against the Red Wings on Monday before traveling down to Atlanta to face-off with the Thrashers on Friday.
“I think when you have a tough game, or lose a game, it’s important to have a good mindset going into the next game,” said goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. “And I think this year we have done really well with that, bouncing back. (Saturday) is a big game, and we need to answer the right way.”
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