I hate when people use terms such as “most win.” The reality is that the Rangers could not show up tonight and lose this game 8-1, and they’d still be in a good position to make the playoffs. Tonight is not a “must-win” for the Rangers. However, this is a very important game. Two points tonight means we are two points closer to clinching a playoff spot. Two points tonight is the difference between creating a decent gap between us and the Sabres and tying them in the standings. If the Rangers win tonight, they will make life so much easier for themselves. While they certainly can’t coast, they will be able to to relieve themselves of a bit of pressure and tension. Winning tonight would mean, in all likelihood, the Rangers are making the playoffs. That kind of assurance would be good for the team. It would take pressure off of Henrik, who has started a ridiculous number of games in a row. It would allow Tortorella to perhaps give a couple less shifts to Gaborik and Staal in the final games. Make no mistake, this is not a “must win” game. This is a game where the Rangers can decide if they want to make their path to making the playoffs an easy one or a much more difficult one. Let’s look at the keys to the game.
Henrik Lundqvist- Buffalo has the 4th best offense in the Eastern Conference. The Rangers are going to need a huge effort from Henrik tonight. Henrik is 8-1-1 in his last 10 starts and has been an absolute monster in the month of March, with a goals against average under 2.00 and 3 shutouts in his 12 starts. Lundqvist is 1-1 in his two starts against Buffalo this year, though his one win was in Buffalo. This is arguably the biggest game of the season up to this point, and Lundqvist almost always shows up when he’s needed most. I’d expect nothing less tonight.
Jhonas Enroth- That’s right. After Sabres coach Lindy Ruff announced that Ryan Miller would be getting the start, hours later that changed. Miller is day-to-day with an “upper-body injury” and thus won’t be able to play tonight. Instead, it will be a Swedish goaltender matchup, as Enroth will be in goal for the Sabres. Granted, Enroth is a solid backup goaltender, but that’s still a big break for the Rangers. Enroth has a decent 2.78 GAA and .906 save percentage in 8 games this year, and was in goal for the Rangers overtime win against the Sabres earlier in the year. At only 5’11 and 166 pounds, Enroth is one of the smaller goalies in the NHL. The Rangers better get traffic in front of the net.
Thomas Vanek- Two goals in his last two games, and he overwhelmingly leads the team in points this season. The Rangers have done an outstanding job this season of making him irrelevant. In their three meetings this season, Vanek has only one assist and is a -4. If there is one guy specifically on Buffalo that is going to hurt us, it’s Thomas Vanek. Shut him down and you eliminate a big part of their offense.
Tyler Myers- The 20 year old defenseman has 10 goals this year, including one against the Rangers in their last meeting. The Rangers had issues previously with giving the opposing point men too much time to shoot. Last game, though, they fixed that, blocking 7 Zdeno Chara shots alone. Myers is basically a poor man’s Chara offensively, so they will need to employ that same philosophy. Players are going to get banged up tonight. That’s not any different than the rest of the season. Against big shots like Myers, that’s what its going to take. Don’t give him time to wind up and blast away.
Artem Anisimov- Three goals in three games against the Sabres this year, and an assist on top of that. Among those three goals is his overtime winner at Madison Square Garden, which came against Enroth. Would be nice of him to end March, which has been the best month of his career, with a bang.
Typical Ranger Effort- Both Rangers victories against the Sabres this season have been in the second game of a back-to-back for the Sabres. The Sabres are coming off a very tiring loss against the Maple Leafs last night, while the Rangers have not played since Saturday afternoon. The Rangers are clearly the fresher team right now, and they must take advantage of that. Physical play, skating all over the rink, forechecking, diligent cycling the puck for long shifts, etc. The things that the Rangers do best are ideal for tonight’s matchup. Anything less than the typical 110% effort this team lives by would be unfortunate.
Zuccarello and Gilroy are the scratches again. The Hurricanes and Canadiens face each other tonight. We certainly don’t want that game going to overtime. Whether you would like the Hurricanes to lose and make us closer to clinching a playoff spot, or the Canadiens to lose making us more likely to jump up in the standings, is up to you really. I’m not sure which is better. Derek Stepan remembers his first and only game in Buffalo. Let’s remind everyone what happened: