The Rangers have fought through the season clinching a playoff spot Monday night defeating their division rivals, the New Jersey Devils, but all is not quiet on the Eastern front. Much work must be done over the Blueshirts final ten games of the season. The Rangers hold a three-point lead over the Pittsburgh Penguins and a five-point lead over the Philadelphia Flyers, but will battle until the end to win the Atlantic Division. Hosting a slumping Detroit Red Wings team, an Original Six rival, may bring a fight of the Detroit kind.
Detroit enters the game on a five-game skid with a 44-25-4 record. The Wings are 16-20-2 on the road and have won only three of their last 10 games. This is Detroit’s longest skid since a six-game slump from Oct. 22-Nov. 3. The Wings will be looking for a fight to claim the win. Detroit has the fewest penalty minutes in the League at 255, with only 16 majors.
New York comes into the matchup having won their last game with a 25-9-2 record, and 25-9-2 on home ice. The Rangers have won four of their last 10 games, and are ready to take on the vulnerable Wings. The Rangers have 269 penalty minutes and have the most majors at 62.
While The Rangers have an advantage or two over the Wings, no game is a guarantee win. At the helm, is goaltender Henrik Lundqvist who boasts a 1.89 GAA. New York’s top players, Marian Gaborik with 35 goals; Brad Richards with 33 assists; and Marian Gaborik with 66 points will spend energy containing Detroit’s Pavel Datsyuk who has 60 points on the season.
The Wings netminding situation is shaky at best and comes at the worst possible time during the slump. Much of Detroit’s current struggles are linked with the vast number of injuries, including that of mainstay netminder Jimmy Howard. Howard has been consistent for the Wings with a 2.15 GAA. Backup goaltender Joey MacDonald is also out, and the expected replacement, Ty Conklin, must clear re-entry waivers or the Wings will go with Grand Rapids Griffin’s Jordan Pearce who would get his first career NHL start.
Detroit will also be without top forward Johan Franzen who has 26 Goals thus far, but won’t play due to back spasms. Nicklas Lidstrom, who has been out since Feb. 25 with a bone bruise, practiced for the second straight day and will make the trip to New York to skate and will continue treatment. Could Rookie Carl Hagelin may be the key to the breakout. Hagelin, a former Michigan Wolverines captain, scored two assists and used his speed to grab loose pucks for scoring chances against New Jersey. Hagelin now has 37 points in 54 games – an impressive .68 points a game making him a candidate for the Calder Race.
Can The Rangers handle the devastating hits of Niklas Kronwall? Can they mimic the two-way play of Datsyuk and win the contest? The Rangers have their secret weapons as witnessed Monday night. Though the face-off frenzy caused a surge of staged fighting controversy, Brandon Dubinsky stood out scoring shortly after the chaos ensued. Whether it added to his spirit or not, Dubinsky has come back with force. New York is ready to continue their leading ways becoming the first Eastern Conference team to clinch a playoff spot.
If Coach Tortorella taunted Devils coach Pete DeBoer from the bench prior to the game, or if Stu Bickel planned a scrap prior to the puck drop, it’s a little bit of hockey culture lingering in the past. The three fights that broke out at the outset seemed to jump-start the Rangers out of their malaise. New York had played a consistent game all season, but the dogfight at the end begets old-school hockey at its best and worst. Break a leg Blueshirts.