While the Sabres are locked in a day to day fight for a coveted playoff spot, their opponent tonight has no such concern. The New York Rangers became the 1st Eastern Conference team to clinch a playoff berth when they beat New Jersey this past Monday. It was the earliest a Rangers club locked up a post season spot in twenty years.
But the Rangers do have a fight going on as the regular season hits the final 2 weeks. Looking like a lock for the Atlantic Division title and top seed in the East a few weeks ago, New York is now trying to hold on to both of those honors.
March has been a struggle for the Rangers as evidenced by their 6-5-1 record this month. Combine that with the red hot play of the Pittsburgh Penguins(13-0-1 in their last 14 games) and you have the makings of an intense finish.
Don’t blame the big guns because they’ve been doing their jobs. Leading scorer Marian Gaborik has 6 goals and 13 points in his last 12 games. Off season big ticket acquisition Brad Richards has 6 goals and 17 points in his last 14 games. Henrik Lundquist remains one of the elite goalies in the league and should have the inside track on the Vezina Trophy.
The Rangers have shown signs of coming around during a season long 7 game homestand that concludes tonight. They’ve gone 4-2 and have won the last 2 games against the Devils and Detroit. The Garden has also been a big edge this season for John Tortorella’s club. Their home record of 26-9-2 is 4th best in the league and the franchise’s best record at MSG in twenty years.
If recent history is any indication, expect a nail biter tonight. 5 of the last 7 games between the Sabres and Rangers have been decided by 1 goal and 4 of those games have gone beyond regulation time. That includes the last 2 meetings of this season. A 1-0 shootout win for New York at First Niagara Center on February 1st was followed by a 3-2 overtime triumph by the Broadway Blueshirts at MSG on February 25th.
You can blame Rochester native Ryan Callahan who had the game winning goal on both occasions. He also had the game winner in New York’s 4-1 victory on Sabres ice back in December.