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• Game Notes
• Zuccarello Called Up from Connecticut
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
This afternoon at Madison Square Garden, the Rangers will play their final game of the regular season, and it will be the single most important contest they have played all year long.
Facing a fierce local rival -- the New Jersey Devils -- the Rangers must come away with at least one point – and preferably two -- to keep their playoff hopes alive.
A win this afternoon by the Blueshirts coupled with a loss -- either in regulation or overtime -- by the Carolina Hurricanes later on Saturday night in their match against the Tampa Bay Lightning would send the Rangers to the postseason for the fifth time in the past six years.
The Rangers could also make their way into the playoffs should they lose in overtime today and the Hurricanes were defeated in regulation this evening by the Lightning.
“We’re a good hockey team and we’ve had a good year,” said a relaxed Rangers head coach John Tortorella following an upbeat and spirited practice on Friday. “I am really confident these guys will recapture themselves and play a really good game (Saturday).”
The fact that his club is coming off a disappointing 3-0 loss to the Atlanta Thrashers on Thursday night is of no concern to the Blueshirts bench boss. As he stated immediately following that defeat, his focus shifted to Saturday’s game as soon as the final buzzer sounded Thursday night.
“This team has bounced back from clunkers we have played and injuries we have had this year, and we have full trust that we will be ready to play (Saturday),” said Tortorella. “We’re going to have really short memories and bounce back. This is a pretty damn good club, and we will try and find a way.”
Although not exactly in the same situation as last season, this year’s final regular season game mirrors the importance of Game No. 82 in 2009-10. In that final contest last season, the Rangers were defeated 2-1 by the Flyers in a game decided by an overtime shootout, and they ended up one point shy of a spot in the playoffs.
That defeat provided much motivation for many of the Rangers who returned this season, and according to at least one player -- goaltender Henrik Lundqvist -- a valuable lesson was learned from that game down in Philadelphia.
“We learned that we have to be in the moment and not get caught up in the big picture, which I think at least I, personally, did last year,” said Lundqvist, who will make his 26th consecutive start this afternoon. “I can’t think that if I don’t make this save the season is over. That’s what I learned from last year. We just need to focus on this game and block everything else out.”
For several other players, the final-game loss a year ago remains a bitter memory. However, they agree to a man that it won’t be something they carry out on to the ice with them today. As Lundqvist stated, the Rangers’ focus is solely on this afternoon’s game against the Devils -- nothing more and nothing less.
“The feeling I had after that game (in Philadelphia last year), you don’t forget how that feels,” said the club’s leading scorer Brandon Dubinsky. “So (today) we have to come in with urgency and fire. Every time you miss the playoffs you miss out on a chance to win the Stanley Cup. No one in here wants that.”
The Rangers recalled rookie winger Mats Zuccarello from the Connecticut Whale on Friday and he is expected to be inserted into the lineup today, as much for his scoring potential during game action as for his skill and success in the shootout, should the game be decided that way.
In 41 games with the Rangers this season Zuccarello has scored six goals and recorded 22 points. Since being assigned to the Whale on April 1, Zuccarello had four assists in three games. He has notched 29 points (13-16-29) in 36 total games with the Whale this season.
While Zuccarello will play this afternoon, it is not likely that team captain Chris Drury will be able to return to action despite the fact that he has practiced with his teammates this entire past week. Drury has not played since undergoing knee surgery in early February.
“That’s not in the equation right now,” Drury said of playing today. “Certainly I won’t be put in a situation because of (needing to win) I’m not ready for. We have to be smart.”
Of course, joining Drury on the sidelines will be alternate captain Ryan Callahan, who will miss his second straight game since suffering a fractured ankle during Monday night’s 5-3 win over the Bruins.
Despite the injuries, the Rangers will need to put forth a yeoman’s effort today against an inspired rival that would like nothing more than to snuff out the Blueshirts’ playoff aspirations in the Devils’ second-to-last game of the season. The Rangers vow that they will be prepared to come out of today’s fray with two points, and then will settle in to see their fate postseason fate decided tonight in Carolina.
“We are going to take care of our game and get the win,” said Dubinsky. “And I am confident we will get the help we need (later on).”
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