Remember the game against the Sabres around a week ago? A win would have essentially locked up a playoff spot for the Rangers. A loss would make clinching a playoff spot a lot more stressful. The Rangers of course chose the second option, and here we are. Still, with two games left in the season the Rangers find themselves in a similar situation. A win tonight would magic the Rangers’ magic number for clinching a playoff spot 1 point. On the other hand, a Rangers loss would mean that they don’t even control their own destiny anymore. With the win against Boston, the Rangers are now 12-0-1 in the last 3 home games of the regular season since 2006-2007, and even without Ryan Callahan, the morale of this Rangers team has to be as high as it’s been this season. It’s a team that has been motivated and worked their asses off the whole season. It’s a team that knows they are in the driver’s seat for locking up a playoff spot. It’s a team that is coming off a highly improbable and their best victory of the season. Against the Sabres the Rangers played like they didn’t care. Against the Bruins they showed us they did. To get the two points tonight, the Rangers will have to beat a team at Madison Square Garden. A team that is missing players. A team that is out of the playoff picture and literally has nothing to play for except pride. In fact, being division rivals with the Hurricanes, they’d probably rather the Rangers make the playoffs over them, so the Thrashers don’t even have the incentive of playing spoilers. This is a game the Rangers have no excuse of losing. Let’s look at the game notes:
Henrik Lundqvist- Lundqvist is one of the last people who can be blamed for the miserable start to the Bruins game. Still, he wasn’t at his best. The third goal that he let in specifically was somewhat soft. Still, with the way he’s played the past month, the fact that he’s banged up, has gotten virtually no rest, and was playing his second game in as many days, makes it understandable. The multiple days of rest he’s received with no games scheduled should have helped him, and given the atmosphere of tonight’s game, he’ll most likely step up like he usually does. Lundqvist is 1-1 with a 2.43 GAA and .912 SV % against the Thrashers this year.
Injured Thrashers- Yes, the Rangers will miss Ryan Callahan, but as good of a year he has had, he’s not as irreplaceable as Tobias Enstrom is for the Thrashers. As we mentioned earlier in the season, the whole dynamic of the Thrashers team is different with Enstrom in the lineup. Fortunately for the Rangers, he will not be in the lineup. That’s a guy who has 51 points in 72 games this season and has quarterbacked the Thrashers’ above average power play. For all that is lacking without Callahan, much more will be lacking for the Thrashers without Tobias Enstrom. Also missing will be former Ranger Radek Dvorak, who has been one of Atlanta’s top penalty killers since he was acquired at the trade deadline from Florida. Not only will the Thrashers be missing their best player, but another quality depth player as well. Even more reason the Rangers have no excuse to lose this game.
Ondrej Pavelec- After starting the season absolutely on fire, Pavelec’s play died down pretty quickly. Pavelec hasn’t had a month with a save percentage above .900 since January, or a month with a GAA below 3.00 since December. That being said, he has dominated the Rangers this year, with a 1.93 GAA and .933 SV %. Part of that was simply Pavalec having some good games, but the Rangers also have failed to put in some pucks that should have been in the net. Especially with their best defenseman and one of their best defensive forwards missing, the Rangers should put some pucks in the net tonight.
Replacing Callahan- Well, that’s not completely fair. There are very few players in the NHL who can match the contributions of Ryan Callahan. Still, one of the themes of the season has been stepping up when it’s needed, and being a team of replaceable parts, of sorts. Brian Boyle was one of the best players on the team when a bunch of players were injured and somebody needed to step up. He hasn’t produced so much offensively recently, but that’s also partially due to him not being needed as much. Well, now he’s needed more. Sean Avery is another guy who can step it up and replace much of what Callahan does. Maybe he can’t be an elite penalty killer, or reliable on the PP, but Avery CAN match Callahan’s forechecking. He CAN throw hits around. He CAN block shots. Avery has been in the doghouse, but now is his chance to get out of it. Even if it’s by default, Avery will be receiving some more minutes. It’s up to him to make the best of them.
Ryan McDonagh- He’s made mistakes once in a while, but last game against Boston was the first time in his stay in the NHL that McDonagh truly had a all-around bad game. Those are going to happen. What matters is how he responds to that. Does he leave that in the past and come out strong tonight? Or does he let it get into his head, much like what happened with Del Zotto this season?
Nik Antropov is returning to MSG. I know what you’re thinking. Just try to keep the tears to a minimum. It will be an emotional return for all of us. Head over to Thrasher Backer for the Atlanta preview of this game.Is there anything else worth mentioning? I don’t think so…
oh yeah, one thing. WIN THE DAMN GAME.