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• Game Notes
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
Earlier this season, when the Rangers were achieving much success while still establishing the type of team they would be in 2010-11, one forward line combination consistently stood out as the club’s “go-to” unit in all game situations.
Now -- as the Rangers seek their sixth consecutive win tonight when they host the Ottawa Senators at Madison Square Garden -- that same line combination of Artem Anisimov, Brandon Dubinsky, and Ryan Callahan is once again sparking the Blueshirts toward a return to the playoffs.
“Our line gets the most time, whether it’s penalty kill, power play, even strength, we’re all three in those situations and we are relied on a lot, and I think we all take a lot of pride in that,” said Dubinsky, who leads the Rangers with 51 points and is tied for second with 22 goals. “When we need a big goal, there is no lack of communication between us about going out to get it. We like that responsibility.”
Dubinsky and his linemates came through for the Blueshirts yet again during the Rangers 1-0 win over the Florida Panthers Tuesday night at MSG. Not only tenacious on the forecheck and solid defensively throughout, that line scored the game’s only goal, as well.
That lone goal -- scored by Dubinsky -- showcased much of what is so good about this threesome. They won the important battles down low, Anisimov made a deft play with his skate to keep possession of the puck, Callahan made a brilliant pass, and Dubinsky crashed the low slot to put the puck past Panthers goalie Tomas Vokoun.
“I think all year we’ve felt that way, that we are a line that needs to produce and put up points for the team to be successful,” said Callahan, who leads the team with 23 goals and is second with 47 points in just 54 games. “We put that pressure on ourselves as a line to go out there and make a difference. Not only to create energy and play well defensively, but at the same time we have to put points on the board to win games.”
All three players are rolling now and, not so coincidentally, so is the team. The Rangers have won five in a row and seven of their last eight games. Where previously they had struggled on home ice, the Rangers now have ripped off four straight wins at The Garden, and haven’t lost at home since March 3.
Callahan has been the hottest and most consistent Rangers since returning from a broken hand on Feb. 1. In those 22 games, he has recorded 24 points, including a career-best five on March 6 against the Flyers. He currently is riding a four-game point streak (three goals and four assists over the span).
“Cally is a helluva hockey player,” said Dubinsky. “He does so many great things -- it is underestimated how high his skill level is. You don’t even notice it, but he is about a point a game right now. Coming off the injury he has been on fire.”
Dubinsky has also recorded points in four consecutive games and he has three goals and five assists in his last seven contests. Anisimov, who has a career-high 18 goals and 42 points on the season, has scored five goals and recorded 11 points over his last 10 games.
“We are confident playing together, defense and offense,” said Anisimov. “We all play very hard, and now we are getting the results and are helping the team win a lot. We want to get into the playoffs so bad.”
With 84 points, the Rangers sit in seventh place in the Eastern Conference with eight games remaining on their schedule, including tonight’s clash with Ottawa, whom they have beaten twice in three outings so far this season.
The Rangers trail Montreal by three points for sixth place in the conference, while also holding a three-point bulge on eighth-seeded Buffalo. The Carolina Hurricanes, who reside in ninth place in the East have 78 points, six fewer than the Blueshirts.
The standings show that tonight is another crucial contest for the Rangers.
“There are no bad teams in this league so no game is an easy game,” said defenseman Dan Girardi. “Ottawa has some young guys that are playing loose and playing well. We just have to take it one game at a time.”
Girardi’s defense partner, All-Star Marc Staal, had missed the last two games due to an undisclosed injury. The team did not practice on Wednesday, so it is not known whether or not Staal will be able to return to the lineup this evening.
Rangers head coach John Tortorella did say on Tuesday that Staal’s injury is “a day-to-day thing” so the club is hoping his return happens sooner rather than later.
Coming of his league-leading 10th shutout of the season, Henrik Lundqvist is expected to make his 19th consecutive start in goal tonight for the Blueshirts. He has allowed only 16 goals while backstopping seven victories over the past eight games.
“To a man in the room we know that he is probably the most important guy, and most nights is the one who gets us the wins,” Callahan said of Lundqvist. “We know that he’s our guy and he’s having a Vezina (Trophy) type year.”
Following tonight’s contest, the Rangers hit the road for four straight games -- their final four regular-season road games this year. The stretch begins with a Saturday afternoon matinee against the Bruins, continues with road games in Buffalo next Wednesday and Long Island the following night, and concludes with a bout in Philadelphia against the Flyers on Sunday, April 3.
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