The Blueshirts clash with the Canes in Carolina. Here are three factors to watch for when the puck drops.
Stand And Deliver
I’m a big believer in finding big meaning in small events. That’s not to say I’m like the plastic-bag kid in “American Beauty,” but when two teams go head-to-head for one of the conference’s final playoff spots, I think how the teams play says a lot about how things will unfold down the stretch.
Ganas. Chutzpah. Pick your pet term for desire and intrepid action. If the Rangers don’t add any more high-end scoring through a trade and if Marian Gaborik doesn’t return to the ice (and to form) soon, the Blueshirts are going to have to grind for every goal. That takes a lot of energy and endurance. Working in the Rangers’ favor has been a schedule with a few long gaps between games. After Sunday’s loss to the Flyers, Marc Staal told me he feels pretty good stamina wise, better than at this time last season. That could be key both tonight (the Rangers’ fourth game in six days) and during the home stretch in March/early April.
Keep Rolling Hank The Tank?
Henrik Lundqvist has started five straight games and if he gets the nod tonight in Carolina it will equal his longest consecutive-start streak of the season. Lundqvist has stood up to a (very) heavy work load in the past, and it makes sense that the Rangers would want their No. 1 netminder between the pipes tonight against the Canes. But if you don’t start Martin Biron here, when do you give Lundqvist his next night off? Friday the Rangers play the Washington Capitals, while Sunday the square off against the Tampa Bay Lightning, both with big-time offensive threats. If he starts tonight, I circled Tuesday, March 4 against the Buffalo Sabres as the next likely off night for Lundqvist. It will be interesting to see if head coach John Tortorella rests Lundqvist before that, or if Lundqvist can stand up to the work load. For the second question, the smart money is on "yes."
Who’s Going To Step Up?
Gaborik may not have been producing on par with his career norm, but he was the Rangers’ leading point scorer since their skid started Jan. 25 (1 G, 7 A). The Rangers could certainly use a big effort from dynamic forward Mats Zuccarello and recently-acquired Wojtek Wolski Tuesday night. And a return to early-season form for (the battered) Brian Boyle (2 G, 1 A in the last 10 games) could go a long way as well. Matched with Derek Stepan and Sean Avery Sunday, Zuccarello’s line seemed to be the team’s best. Perhaps they’ll be able to carry that effort over to Tuesday.