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• Game Notes
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
As the Rangers head into tonight’s important contest with the Carolina Hurricanes at the RBC Center, the refrain throughout the team from head coach John Tortorella to the players is that it is time to start winning games on a consistent basis.
It is a simple message, but one the team needs to take to heart in the midst of a stretch that has seen them win just twice in their last 10 games (2-7-1).
“We’ve done a lot of good things and we have a number of players playing well, but it’s about winning hockey games and we just have not done that consistently enough here,” said Tortorella. “We’ve got to ramp it up and start again (against Carolina).”
After winning back-to-back games last week against Pittsburgh and Los Angeles, the Rangers dropped two more close results this past weekend to the Devils and the Flyers. As such, the Rangers remain stuck on 66 points, which is still good enough to keep them in seventh place in the Eastern Conference, though only two points ahead of Carolina, which sits in eighth place heading into this evening’s crucial matchup.
In the ever-tightening Eastern Conference playoff race, the Rangers also currently lead both Buffalo and Atlanta by six points. A major reason why the Rangers are in such a battle right now is that since the New Year they have posted a 9-12-2 record.
The most frustrating part for the Rangers is that 12 of those 14 defeats have been by either one or two goals, meaning that they have played well, but have lacked one or two big plays at key moments to turn decisions in their favor.
“Right now we’re in a position where we’re right there, but we’re just not doing quite enough to win the games and it’s costing us points,” said goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who has started five games in a row. “We’ve done a lot of good things, but we need to find a way to get that extra goal or that extra save at the right time to turn these games into wins.”
While somewhat frustrated in not getting the desired results, the Rangers remain confident that they will turn these close games into victories.
“We definitely still feel confident and we are definitely taking the positives out of these games, but at the end of the day we need to get two points out of each game no matter how many positives there are,” said alternate captain Ryan Callahan. “We still feel good about ourselves, but at the same time we need wins. It doesn’t matter how good you play, you must get those two points.”
As they have done all season, the Rangers will need to persevere without a key contributor once again. Marian Gaborik was forced out of Sunday’s 4-2 loss to the Flyers after one period of play due to a concussion, and he did not accompany the team to Raleigh, N.C., for tonight’s game.
The team did not have an update on Gaborik’s condition on Monday, although the Rangers did recall forward Kris Newbury from the Connecticut Whale to fill Gaborik’s spot in the lineup.
The Rangers have two days off until they play again on Friday in Washington against the Capitals, but the team is refusing to speculate as to when Gaborik might be able to return to action.
Veteran winger Ruslan Fedotenko made the trip south with his teammates, but that is likely to have him skate and practice with the team. On Saturday, Tortorella indicated that Fedotenko was still seven to 10 days away from playing in a game as he rehabs from an injured shoulder and an appendectomy.
“As I have said all year long, I only worry about those players who can play,” said Tortorella. “We have to focus on who is here. We can’t worry about who is not here. And we will not make any excuses because we have guys out of the lineup.”
Tonight marks the fourth and final meeting this season between the two teams that currently hold the final two playoff seeds in the East. The two clubs split a pair of games at Madison Square Garden -- with Mats Zuccarello’s overtime-winning goal in the Rangers’ 2-1 victory on Jan. 5 one of the true highlights of the season -- and the Hurricanes won the only meeting so far in Carolina, a 4-1 decision on Jan. 20.
Like the Rangers, Carolina has struggled a bit in the month of February -- posting a 3-5-2 record over its last 10 games. The ‘Canes are coming off a 4-1 loss to the Devils on Saturday.
But as is his way, the Rangers head coach is less concerned with the opponent than he is about his own club.
“We have the foundation done as far as who we are, but we need to find a way to win games,” said Tortorella. “And it starts right here and now.”
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