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• Game Notes
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
Three days after one of their most resounding victories of the season, the Rangers look to extend their winning streak to three straight games tonight when they face the Anaheim Ducks at the Honda Center to kick-off a two-game West Coast trip.
The Rangers are coming off a 7-0 thrashing over the Eastern Conference-leading Flyers at Madison Square Garden on Sunday, a game that saw Ryan Callahan establish personal single-game career-highs with four goals and five points and goaltender Henrik Lundqvist earn his league-leading ninth shutout of the season.
“I am pretty sure all of the guys are aware of where we stand in the standings in the Eastern Conference so we just needed to make sure before we went on the road out West that we had a great effort at home,” said Vinny Prospal, who has recorded eight points (2-6-8) in the last seven games. “Cally showed what a great leader he is, making sure we backed up our win in Ottawa with another great effort against one of the top teams in the league. And Hank is Hank. He is one of the best goaltenders in the world.”
With Martin Biron sidelined due to a fractured collarbone, and the Rangers in a daily grind of trying to secure a playoff spot in the East, Lundqvist has started 12 consecutive games, and will make it 13 in a row tonight in Anaheim. He has backstopped a pair of shutouts and allowed only nine goals in his last six outings coming into play this evening.
Although much of the emphasis of Sunday’s victory, as well as last Friday’s 4-1 win over the Senators, was credited to the re-energized offense, it can’t be overlooked the job Lundqvist did between the pipes before the Rangers were able to put both games away. His sensational save on Philadelphia’s Claude Giroux in the final minute of the first period on Sunday not only kept the score 2-0 in the Rangers’ favor, but it guaranteed that the momentum would remain on their side heading into the second period.
“Marty Biron did the things we wanted him to do, and it’s unfortunate that he’s not with us now, but this is Hank’s show now,” said Rangers head coach John Tortorella. “(Playing Marty during the season) did what it had to do for our No. 1 goalie, to get him that rest, not only physically, but mentally, too. And I think the last couple of games, even though it was a 4-1 score and a 7-0 score, Hank has made some key saves for us early that were very important.”
Also not to be lost in Callahan’s splendid performance against the Flyers, and the 11 goals scored by the Rangers in total the last two games, has been the breakthrough scoring of Mats Zuccarello. The rookie from Norway snapped a 17-game goal-scoring drought when he found the back of the net in Ottawa and followed that up with the first two-goal game of his NHL career on Sunday.
Zuccarello now has six goals and 19 points in 33 games this season, and he feels his confidence is on the rise.
“I am very happy to be scoring goals, but even more happy we are winning games,” said Zuccarello. “I had been creating chances, which was good, but when the team is not winning I need to be scoring, not just getting chances. It’s not like I’m going to score every game now, but I do have more confidence now that I have put a few in.”
Zuccarello has built a nice chemistry with linemates Derek Stepan and Wojtek Wolski, and Tortorella has kept that threesome intact for a couple of weeks. The head coach has remained impressed all along with Zuccarello’s strong all-around play and believes that he has earned the opportunity to continue skating alongside Stepan and Wolski, two of the team’s more creative and skilled players.
“We feel he’s a creative guy, and we feel we need creativity in our lineup,” Tortorella said of Zuccarello. “It’s not like he was stale offensively (during his goal-less streak), he was still involved in a lot of the opportunities in the offensive chances we were getting. But it certainly is good to see him punch in a couple these last couple of games.”
It was also good for the head coach to see rookie defenseman Ryan McDonagh and veteran sniper Marian Gaborik not only return to the lineup on Sunday, but remain healthy heading into this evening’s contest with the Ducks. McDonagh returned after missing only one game with a sore knee and played more than 20 minutes, posting a plus-four plus/minus rating, and chipping in with an assist, while Gaborik was back following a six-game absence due to a concussion.
Tortorella was very impressed with how McDonagh gritted his way back into the lineup after missing only one game; and he was likewise impressed with how Gaborik stood up for himself during a second-period altercation with the Flyers’ Kris Versteeg.
Both players will play big roles tonight as the Rangers try and win their third straight game overall and their fourth straight on the road. With Buffalo losing on Tuesday, the Rangers remain two points up on the eighth-place Sabres for the seventh seed in the East. They head into action tonight with 74 points on the season.
Following tonight’s contest the Rangers head to San Jose where they will skate against the Sharks on Saturday night.
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