The Rangers faceoff against the Toronto Maple Leafs tonight at Air Canada Centre (7:00 p.m.) in Toronto, in an Original Six matchup. The Blueshirts currently rank fourth in the Atlantic Division standings, and 10th in the Eastern Conference, with a record of 33-32-9 (75 pts.). The Rangers enter tonight’s contest having defeated the New Jersey Devils, 4-3, in the shootout on Thursday at the Prudential Center. The Maple Leafs enter the contest with a 27-35-12 (66 pts.) record to rank 15th in the Eastern Conference. Following tonight’s contest, the Rangers return to action on Tuesday, Mar. 30, when they will faceoff against the New York Islanders at Nassau Coliseum (7:00 p.m.), in the third game of their season-high six-game road trip.
Just when you think the Rangers are out of the playoffs for good, they’re right back in the hunt for the eighth seed. A dominant performance against the Islanders and a come-from-behind win in New Jersey have pushed the Rangers to within three points of the eighth-place Boston Bruins entering Saturday’s games. The Blueshirts can’t look past the Leafs, who have won 4 of 5 despite having the worst record in the Eastern Conference.
Following this afternoon’s games the Rangers are now five points back of the Bruins, after they defeated Calgary, 5-0. Philadelphia, who has lost five straight, is tied with Boston for eighth in the Eastern Conference with 80 points.
While the Rangers have won two in-a-row, they’ve been in this position all year: win one or two big games, play like a Stanley Cup contender, and then play like a contender for a lottery pick the next night. Every game becomes more important than the last. For the last four weeks, the Rangers have been an enigma. It’s hard to tell whether this team is capable of making the playoffs, let alone advance once they get there. The Rangers were trailing 1-0, 2-1, and 3-2 against New Jersey, and they kept fighting. That’s exactly what the last two weeks of the season will be: a fight for a playoff spot. Whichever team proves it has the most heart and wants it more than the others will be playing playoff hockey come April. Tonight’s game in Toronto will show whether the Rangers want it more than Boston, Philadelphia, or Atlanta.
The Rangers may be without winger Ryan Callahan, who aggravated a leg injury against the Devils on Thursday. He will likely be a game-time decision.
Rangers head coach, John Tortorella: “There’s no sense of feeling pressure now. If we lose games with so little left, you’re done. We’ve talked as a group. Lots of people poked holes in us and rightfully so. We’ve had an up-and-down season but we’ve stayed within ourselves and have kept fighting.”
The Leafs are the perfect example of a team that’s playing for pride. Still, the Rangers are the better team across the board. Leafs star forward Phil Kessel has been limited to 1 goal and 2 assists in 11 career games against Rangers. I expect the Rangers to come out firing early, controlling the tempo of the game, and being aggressive in all areas of the ice. Rangers’ goalie Henrik Lundqvist is 2-0-1 with a 1.30 goals-against average in his last three games against Toronto. On Thursday, Lundqvist became the first goalie in league history to earn 30 wins in each of his first five seasons. He wants to play deep into the playoffs, and at this point in the season it’s hard to bet against a team with a goaltender that has his drive and determination.
Rangers win, 3-1
Shot Calling - Olli Jokinen breaks his three-game point drought with a goal and an assist.
Photo Credit: James Guillory/US Presswire