The New York Rangers are back on the road again, this time traveling to North Carolina to face the Hurricanes in a game that has legitimate playoff implications. The Rangers, currently 7th in the East, are two points ahead of Carolina in the standings, but the ‘Canes have a game in hand. The Rangers are coming off a 4-2 loss against the Philadelphia Flyers, who are atop the East. The Rangers actually started the game well but lost the game in the second period. The effort, as always, was there, but the result wasn’t and hasn’t been for a while. The Rangers lost more than just the game on Sunday, though, as Marian Gaborik is now out with a concussion. Carolina hasn’t been much better than the Rangers, though, recently. The Hurricanes are 3-5-2 in their last 10 games.This is the fourth matchup between these two teams this season, with Carolina winning the first game played in Carolina 4-1. The Rangers will have to play much better than that tonight to get not only get the two points they need but also prevent Carolina from moving up in the standings. Let’s look at the keys to the game:
Henrik Lundqvist- Lundqvist is getting his fourth start in the last six days. Lundqvist has played relatively well, and in particular was very good against Philadelphia on Sunday. Despite his great play, he has had the misfortune of letting in one soft goal in almost every game. It’s perhaps a bit unfair to expect Lundqvist to be perfect every game, but the reality is that this team, especially with Gaborik out, need him to be flawless. Lundqvist is 9-8-1 with a 2.42 GAA and .912 Save % against Carolina in his career.
Cam Ward- The former Stanley Cup Winner is making an almost unheard of 20th straight start tonight. Ward is 3-5-2 with a 2.90 GAA and .910 Save % in his last 10 starts, but those stats are somewhat deceiving due to the team in front of him not helping his cause. It’s hard to blame Hurricanes’ coach Paul Maurice for playing Ward so much, given that the team needs great goaltending to win and Carolina’s backup, Justin Peters, is nowhere near as good as our Martin Biron, or most backup goalies for that matter. Regardless, War is anything but fresh so the Rangers have a relatively tired goalie to fire shots at. What Ward will want the Rangers to do is give him perimeter shots into his chest or pads. The more they make him work, the more successful they will be in scoring.
Staal vs. Staal- The Staal vs. Staal aspect is forced, especially when on national television, but it’s still a key matchup regardless of whether they are brothers. Eric Staal is certainly the best Carolina skater while many would argue that Marc is the Rangers’ best skater as well. Marc will be matched up with him, as always. If the Rangers can shut down Eric then Carolina’s offense will take a huge hit. Marc has shown he can take his older brother out of the game before and Eric only has one goal in the three games they’ve faced each other this season. Marc needs to do it again tonight.
Forwards- It’s always required a team effort for the Rangers this year, but with Gaborik out the Rangers are going to need an even better collective effort from all four forward lines tonight. Brian Boyle is being asked to step up big time, as he is being moved to first line right wing on a line with Vinny Prospal and Erik Christensen. Mats Zuccarello and Wojtek Wolski, both of whom have been good in recent games, will be called upon to contribute as well and replace some of the skill lost with Gaborik’s absence.
This is the final matchup between these two teams this season so the Rangers need to make this game count.