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By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
Henrik Lundqvist has watched from the bench the past two games as the Rangers dropped a pair of hard-fought decisions in Montreal and Detroit.
Hungry to help his team get back on the winning track, Lundqvist is hopeful that he will be back in the lineup this evening when the Rangers face the Thrashers in Atlanta.
“It’s never fun to lose, and to sit and watch is even more frustrating,” said Lundqvist, who last started eight days ago in a 3-2 home-ice loss to the Devils. “So hopefully I can come in there and we all can have a great game. We have to leave that building with two points.”
The Rangers currently sit in seventh place in the Eastern Conference with 62 points, only four ahead of the ninth-place Thrashers. Both teams have 26 games remaining to play in the regular season, and they will face one another only one more time -- on April 7 at Madison Square Garden.
“It’s a big game in a lot of ways on Friday,” said Lundqvist. “Atlanta is right behind us, and we’ve been losing too many games now in a row. A win would show that we’ve been doing good things, but if we had that one extra goal or one extra save the past five games then we’d sit here feeling pretty good about ourselves. But we need that little extra from all of us Friday to start turning this around.”
During their current 0-4-1 skid, the Rangers have done numerous things well, but their struggling offense has helped to magnify the defensive mistakes they have made during games. Of the past five contests, the Rangers have lost four by one goal and the other by two -- although that outcome in Montreal was inflated by an empty-net goal in the final minute of play.
The coaches and players realize that the Rangers are close, on the verge of winning games, but they need the big play at the key moment to swing a defeat into a victory.
“There are big points all the way through the year,” said Martin Biron, who allowed just four goals total in starting each of the last two games in goal. “But right now we have to look at it as this has to be our most important month. We’ve had a rough start win-wise, but we’ve played OK. At the same time we have time to make up for that. We want to get to March with some separation in the standings, but we have to do it now.”
As far as making one game more important than another, Rangers head coach John Tortorella believes that is not the case. He believes that each and every game, each and every available two points in the standings, is vital. And right now his take is that the Rangers just need to find a way to break through and secure a victory to get back on track.
“I look at one game at a time,” said Tortorella. “I know I’m going to be asked if (Friday) is a ‘must’ game. I think all of them are ‘must’ games. We’re approaching this after two really good work days here that we are just trying to get better as a hockey club. We need to be the absolute best we can be.”
One thing that could greatly benefit the Rangers would be playing with the lead, something they have not done in recent memory. In four of the five games during their current winless skid, they have surrendered the first goal of the game. And in all four of those contests, they have not held a single lead.
In fact, the last time the Rangers held a lead was just under 210 minutes ago -- during the second period of their eventual 4-3 overtime shootout loss to the Penguins back on Feb. 1.
“In all these games there are different reasons why we are down,” said Tortorella, whose club has given up the game-opening goal seven times in its last eight games. “I can’t pinpoint any one reason why we are down. But that’s something that needs to change. That first goal is a very important goal.”
Tortorella also said that several of the players who have recently returned to the lineup from injury haven’t completely shaken the rust off their games, although Ryan Callahan does have two goals in four games since returning and Brandon Dubinsky did net his 18th goal in Monday’s 3-2 loss to the Red Wings.
The one player who is trying to find his game again at this critical juncture of the season is Vinny Prospal, who missed the first 53 games following knee surgery and now has one goal in three games since returning to action.
“He’ll be better,” Tortorella said of Prospal. “He was our best forward his first game back, but that hasn’t been the case since, but that’s to be expected. There’s going to be rust for all these guys, but especially for Vinny because he hadn’t played a single game. But if there’s one guy who’s going to work through it, it’s Vinny.”
After the Rangers conclude their three-game road trip tonight they head back to New York for a pair of home contests -- Sunday afternoon against the Penguins and Thursday night against the Kings.
|Apr 07 '11||ATL 3 at NYR 0||R. Schremp|
|Feb 11 '11||NYR 2 at ATL 3||E. Kane|
|Jan 22 '11||NYR 3 at ATL 2 - SO||M. Zuccarello|
|Oct 27 '10||ATL 6 at NYR 4||D. Byfuglien|
|M. Del Zotto||42||2||8||10||-5||18||2||0|