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• Game Notes
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
Tonight at Madison Square Garden the Rangers not only look to continue their surge toward securing a postseason playoff berth when they host the Florida Panthers, they will also be seeking to extend their winning streak to five consecutive games. The last time the Blueshirts won that many games in a row was when they won seven straight from Oct. 3-17, 2009.
“Right now it’s fun,” said goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who will make his 18th consecutive start for the Rangers tonight. “When you’re winning, everyone is having fun. We’re laughing more, even practice is fun. But it can turn around really fast so we’re going to have to continue working really hard and be honest with our game.”
Sunday’s 5-2 win over the Penguins -- which handed the Rangers a three-game sweep in Pittsburgh this season -- was the fourth in a row for the Blueshirts, giving them their longest winning streak since winning four in a row from Dec. 17-23, 2009.
Although the Blueshirts have not strung together extremely long winning streaks this season, what they have done is avoid bad losing streaks while routinely running off stretches of three wins in four games and four wins in six games, for example. As such they find themselves sitting in seventh place in the Eastern Conference with 82 points heading into this evening’s action.
“We haven’t played many bad games this year,” said Rangers head coach John Tortorella. “Even when we were losing some there, we weren’t that far off. We’ve stressed all year to stay with it and play the right way and the guys have done that. And we have found ways to win hockey games.”
Of late a revived offense and some sensational work in goal by Lundqvist have buoyed the Rangers to six wins in their last seven games. During the four-game win streak the Rangers have scored 20 goals, and over their last 10 victories dating back to Feb. 13, they have scored 50 times.
Meanwhile, with veteran backup Martin Biron sidelined indefinitely with a fractured collarbone, Lundqvist remains the foundation of everything the Rangers accomplish. His 31 victories are sixth-most in the NHL this season, while his 2.35 goals against average and .921 save percentage both rank eighth. He also leads the league in shutouts with nine.
“Hank is such a huge part of this team,” said center Artem Anisimov. “The way he plays gives us the confidence to play our game. He is the rock back there for us.”
Of course the way Anisimov and his linemates, Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky, are currently playing also is a big part of the Rangers’ success of late. Anisimov has opened the scoring in each of the last two wins over Montreal and Pittsburgh and now has a career-high 18 goals on the season.
With 10 points in his last nine games, Anisimov surpassed the 40-point plateau this season -- he currently has 41 -- and has emerged as a force at the tender age of 22.
Anisimov has teamed with the red-hot Callahan (23 points in 21 games since returning from a broken hand on Feb. 1) and the amped-up Dubinsky (seven points in his last six games) to be a go-to line combination for Tortorella, just as it was earlier in the season.
“They’re in all situations,” Tortorella said of that line’s importance to the club. “They can score nice-looking goals. They can grind. They can all kill penalties. They’re a big part of protecting a lead. And they have taken on all that responsibility.”
Offensively Callahan and Dubinsky, like Anisimov, are having their best seasons in the NHL. Callahan leads the club with a career-high 23 goals, and is second on the team with 46 points in only 53 games. Dubinsky leads the club with a career-best 50 points and is third in goals scored with a career-high 21.
“I think we are playing more like we did at the start if the season,” said Anisimov. “There in the middle of the year we lost a little bit of that connection with each other, but right now we have this connection back.”
Contributions are coming from the entire lineup, although Anisimov’s line has received the most offensive backing recently from the Erik Christensen line, with Vinny Prospal on left wing and Marian Gaborik on the right side.
Gaborik, who scored the clutch tying goal in the third period on Sunday, has notched five goals in the past five games and now is second on the team with 22 for the season. Prospal has recorded points in nine consecutive games, the club’s longest such streak of the season. And Christensen has six points in his last four games.
“It’s been a good line, and I think it’s been all three of them,” said Tortorella. “Vinny has sparked us and played really well. Erik has really, really played well. And Gaby is beginning to come. That’s a big boost for us if they can continue to stay consistent.”
On the back end, Tortorella is unsure as to whether or not he will have his full complement of defensemen for this evening’s game with the Panthers. Marc Staal, who missed Sunday’s game due to an undisclosed injury, did not practice on Monday. Ryan McDonagh, who was leveled by Matt Cooke’s suspension-earning elbow to the jaw in the third period of Sunday’s game, also did not practice on Monday, although the head coach said that the rookie was “fine” and that he should be able to play tonight.
With Staal missing from the lineup, veteran Steve Eminger assumed his minutes -- more than 24 in total -- and played a strong game, which saw him credited with a season-high eight hits. Tortorella was quite impressed with Eminger’s attitude, as well as his play, on Monday.
“Emi is playing like he doesn’t want to lose his spot,” said Tortorella. “We asked him to stay prepared because nothing is forever with guys in the lineup and guys out of the lineup. We have good people here, and Emi has handled himself well. Sunday, he was physical, led our team in hits, and made some good defensive plays. He did all the things he needed to do.”
The Rangers will need more of that this evening as they seek their fifth straight victory, and as they continue their fight to earn a playoff spot with Thursday’s contest at The Garden against the Senators.
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