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• Game Notes
• 'Response' Wins a Theme This Season
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
With four games remaining in the season, crunch time has truly arrived for Rangers in their quest to reach the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs, and it begins this afternoon against the Flyers at Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center.
Currently holding what would be the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff berth, the Rangers’ ultimate fate will be decided at some point over these next four games. Such a position might cause panic for some players or some teams. But the 2010-11 Rangers are approaching this important final week of the regular season with the utmost confidence.
“We lean on one another when times aren’t exactly going the way we want because we trust each other,” said center Brian Boyle. “The last few games, obviously, is the opposite of what we wanted, but we still have the chance to get into the playoffs, and we believe in each other and believe that we will get there. It’s going to be a big challenge, but it’s something we are going to do together, because we all have each other’s backs.”
It is this exact mindset that has fueled 78 games of gritty and passionate hockey from the Rangers so far this season. And it is what has them still a point up on ninth-place Carolina, who beat the Islanders 4-2 on Saturday, entering the final week of the regular season.
The Rangers’ magic number to clinch their fifth trip to the playoffs in the last six years remains at eight. Any combination of points earned by the Rangers and/or lost by the Hurricanes totaling eight would send the Blueshirts into the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Should they sweep their last four games, including three at Madison Square Garden, the Rangers will go to the playoffs regardless of what Carolina manages to do.
“We definitely still have our confidence,” said center Artem Anisimov. “Right now it’s important to remember that, that we have confidence in each other and in our system. We just need to play our game and be aware of the small details, while also making big plays at key times. We need to remain prepared mentally as well as physically.”
Coming off a 6-2 road loss to the Islanders on Thursday night -- just 24 hours after a 1-0 defeat up in Buffalo -- the Rangers returned to practice on Saturday and received an upbeat message from head coach John Tortorella.
Although Tortorella used many aspects from Thursday’s game as important teaching tools on Saturday, he did not chastise his players for their off-kilter performance. Instead, Tortorella chose to remind them that he and his coaching staff have full confidence in the team.
“We’re not in the 13th or 14th spot, we’re right in the middle of it,” said Tortorella. “I like this hockey club, and we are going to respond the proper way. I have full faith in the hockey club.”
Despite surrendering six goals on Thursday, the Rangers have played extremely well defensively of late. Their bigger issue has been providing enough offense to win these important games.
The Rangers have scored just five goals in their last five games. Three times in their last five outings, the Rangers have played to a 1-0 final result. The fact that they won two of those games is a credit to their strong team defense as well as the stellar play of goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who is expected to make his 23rd consecutive start for the Blueshirts this afternoon.
“We have played really well defensively as a team,” said Lundqvist. “Obviously we were very disappointed in our game (Thursday) night, and there are no excuses for that. We need to get back to playing our style of hockey (Sunday), and I believe we will.”
Tortorella echoed his star goalie’s thoughts when he met with the media following Saturday’s practice.
“I think re-identifying who we are as a hockey club is the most important thing,” said the head coach. “We know who we are. Now we need to be who we are.”
Today’s contest will mark the second consecutive year that the Rangers are playing an important April game against the Flyers in Philadelphia. Last season the Blueshirts closed out the regular-season with a win-and-in contest at the Wells Fargo Center but ultimately lost 2-1 in a game decided by the overtime shootout. This time around, the Rangers enter a big game at Philadelphia as the team being chased, not the one doing the chasing.
“Everybody here knows this is a huge game, and everybody remembers that game last season,” said Anisimov. “We’ll know how to prepare for this game. We are excited to play.”
Despite the fact that they long ago clinched a postseason playoff berth, the Flyers have a lot to play for this afternoon, as well. Philadelphia trails Washington by one point for the top spot in the Eastern Conference following the Caps ‘wild 5-4 overtime victory over the Sabres on Saturday.
“All I know is we are zeroed in on Philly,” said Tortorella. “We will be ready to go.”
Today’s contest marks the Rangers’ final road game of the 2010-11 regular season. A victory would tie the franchise record of 24 road wins, set by the 1993-94 Stanley Cup championship team.
The Blueshirts will close out the year with three straight home games at Madison Square Garden -- Monday against the Bruins, Thursday against the Thrashers, and Saturday against the Devils.
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