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• Game Notes
• Complete MSG2 Channel Listings for Tonight
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
Having won four of their previous five games, the Rangers are building confidence as they head for the home stretch of the regular season. And tonight that confidence will be put to the test when the host the team directly in front of them in the Eastern Conference standings -- the Montreal Canadiens -- in an Original Six matchup at Madison Square Garden.
The Rangers currently sit in seventh place in the East with 78 points, coming off back-to-back wins over the Sharks in San Jose on Saturday night and over the Islanders at MSG on Tuesday. The sixth-place Canadiens are seven points ahead of the Blueshirts and will be playing their second game in two nights after beating Tampa Bay in an overtime shootout at home on Thursday
“You can feel the confidence in the room, just feel it grow,” said alternate captain Ryan Callahan, who scored his team-leading 21st goal on Tuesday night. “Everyone is chipping in by blocking shots, taking hits, giving hits. We’ve got to keep playing this way because this is how we have success.”
Although only two points ahead of eighth-place Buffalo, and just four points clear of ninth-place Carolina, the Rangers are refusing to look over their shoulders to see how close the opposition is. If anything the Rangers are looking in front of them, using Montreal as a target they would love to catch.
“We’re always trying to look ahead,” said Rangers head coach John Tortorella. “But again, we don’t get too focused on who we have to catch or who’s behind us. We know we’re in the middle of it, and we’re just trying to -- when it’s time to play a game -- win that one game and then go from there.”
The one game that is currently the Rangers’ focus is tonight’s against the Canadiens. The Rangers have lost all three of their previous meetings this season with Montreal, and have scored just three goals total in those games.
All-Star goaltender Carey Price blanked the Rangers 2-0 up in Montreal in the last meeting between these two clubs on Feb. 5, and also backstopped a 3-2 victory at the Bell Centre on Jan. 15. In the only game so far played at The Garden, former Ranger Alex Auld starred in goal for the Canadiens as the Blueshirts dropped a tight 2-1 decision.
“They have a great goaltender, solid defense, and a great power play,” Bryan McCabe said of the Canadiens. “But the key for us is to play our game. We need to set the tone and keep the pressure on them.”
Another strong effort from their own All-Star goalie, Henrik Lundqvist, would not hurt the Rangers tonight either. Lundqvist will be making his 16th consecutive start between the pipes for the Blueshirts tonight, and he is coming off a pair of sterling performances against the Sharks and the Islanders.
Lundqvist is also sitting on 29 wins on the season. One more and he will extend his NHL record of most consecutive 30-win seasons by a goalie to start his career.
“I have been feeling really good about my game, and the team is playing with a lot of confidence, too,” said Lundqvist. “But Montreal is a solid team. They work hard and are skilled, and they’re a good-skating team. They move the puck well which helps with their speed. So we’re going to have to play smart defensively and stick closely to our game plan. This is another big two points.”
Certainly at the heart and soul of the Rangers’ gritty style of play is winger Brandon Prust. Despite a string of nagging injuries that have caused him to miss practice from time to time this season, Prust has played in every game. And he has played a major role in the team’s success this year.
Prust, who scored a shorthanded goal on Tuesday night, has established new career single-season highs in goals (11), assists (14), and points (25), while also racking up 133 penalty minutes. His five shorthanded goals not only lead the team, but they are tied for the league-lead, as well.
“He is one of the toughest guys I’ve played with, that’s for sure,” said Erik Christensen, who has five goals and four assists for nine points in his last seven games. “Especially when you consider his size -- he’s not a huge guy out there. He blocks shots, finishes his checks, and fights; and he has more skill than people give him credit for. He is a big part of the team.”
Prust’s shorthanded goal on Tuesday was one of four special-teams goals the Blueshirts rang up against the Islanders. Always a focus of the team, the Rangers will benefit greatly down the stretch if they can continue to receive consistent contribution from their power play and penalty kill.
The Rangers’ revived power play, which scored three times on Tuesday, has now tallied six times in its last 14 opportunities dating back to March 6. McCabe, who was imported from Florida, in part to help provide the power play some juice, has played a big part in its success of late.
“I think his reputation for being a guy that can shoot the puck, and will shoot the puck, carries a lot of weight out there,” Christensen said of McCabe, who had a power play goal and a power play assist in Tuesday’s 6-3 win. “When he’s not pounding it, he’s making smart decisions and he’s moving the puck. He can pass the puck on his forehand or his backhand, make saucer plays. I think other teams respect him for what he can do on the special teams.”
Following tonight’s game, the Rangers head to Pittsburgh where they will face the Penguins on Sunday afternoon before returning home to host the Panthers next Tuesday and the Senators next Thursday at MSG.
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