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• Game Notes
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By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
The Rangers began their quest to return to the Stanley Cup playoffs back on Oct. 9 at Buffalo, where they opened up the 2010-11 regular season with a 6-3 victory over the Sabres. Now the Rangers can take another step closer towards realizing their goal if they can secure another victory over the Sabres tonight at Buffalo.
With 87 points, the Rangers magic number for clinching a post-season playoff berth is eight. Any combination of Rangers points gained or points lost by the ninth-place Carolina Hurricanes which total eight will clinch a return to the playoffs for the Blueshirts.
“It’s a huge game for us (tonight),” said alternate captain Ryan Callahan following practice on Tuesday. “We want to be as high in the standings as we possibly can going into the playoffs. So we have to go and try to get these two points because this is probably the most important game of the year, so far.”
The Sabres, who lost at Toronto on Tuesday night, are directly behind the Rangers in the Eastern Conference standings with 85 points, which sets up a game full of playoff implications tonight at the HSBC Arena. The Rangers are aware of this, and understand the importance of facing the Sabres this evening, but they are also mindful of the bigger picture.
“Buffalo and Carolina have been the two teams we have had our eye on because they are the teams we are trying to fend off and stay ahead of,” said center Erik Christensen. “So, sure, that makes this an important game. But at the same time we are just going to go about our business and play the way we have to do to be successful. We need to come into every game now thinking that this is the biggest game of the year.”
When Rangers head coach John Tortorella was asked on Tuesday if there was any more meaning built into this evening’s clash with the Sabres, he refused to take the bait. Instead he continued the same mantra he has carried all season long, that each game is just as important as the other 81 on the schedule.
“There doesn’t need to be anything added, no matter who we play,” said Tortorella. “There’s enough there, so it doesn’t matter what team we are playing. We are just worried about ourselves and trying to find a way to win another hockey game.”
The Rangers have earned at least one standings point in seven straight games (6-0-1) following Saturday’s 1-0 victory in Boston. They have earned at least one point in nine of their last 10 games, posting an impressive 8-1-1 mark in that span.
Saturday’s victory was also the team’s 23rd on the road this season, one shy of the franchise record of 24 set back during the 1993-94 season. The Rangers have three chances to either tie, or better, that mark beginning with tonight’s tilt at Buffalo and continuing with road contests on Long Island on Wednesday evening and Sunday afternoon at Philadelphia.
“You’re always drawing from your own experiences,” said Tortorella. “So if you’ve had bad experiences on the road, you tend to think about that. But if you’ve had good experiences on the road, you tend to go that way. Since we’ve had good experiences, they feel good about themselves when they’re playing on the road, no matter if they are down or are up in a game.”
The players took great pride in Saturday’s gritty road win up in Boston. Alhough the Rangers failed to generate a lot of offense, they played a fantastic defensive game, blocking 29 shots in front of Henrik Lundqvist, who earned his league-leading 11th shutout of the season.
When the Bruins amped up their game in the third period on Saturday the Rangers more than matched their effort, blocking an incredible 18 shots in the final 20 minutes alone, even while being outshot by a 12-1 margin.
“Isn’t that how all road wins are? Ugly?” said rookie center Derek Stepan. “We’ve found a way to win some tough road games by just grinding it out. We know that if we want to continue to win these important road games, especially this late in the season, this is how we are going to have to do it from here on out.”
Stepan will be returning to Buffalo for the first time since his magical NHL debut back on Oct. 9. In that contest Stepan scored three goals, becoming only the fourth player in NHL history to record a hat trick in his first game.
“I think Buffalo will always be special to me,” said Stepan. “It will always be that spot where I started my career, not to mention I got my first goal there, and not to mention that I got my first hat trick there.”
The Rangers hope to make it another special night up in Buffalo this evening as they look to move another step closer to their fifth appearance in the past six Stanley Cup playoffs.
Immediately after the game, the Rangers will head to Long Island where they will skate against the Islanders on Thursday night.
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