The month of February has and will arguably be the hardest of the New York Rangers season, and the current stretch of games they are in the midst of has presented some legitimate challenges as far as opponents go. It started last Saturday when the Blueshirts visited the Philadelphia Flyers in a divisional match-up at Wells Fargo Center, and then followed that up with another 'rivalry' game the very next day against the Washington Capitals at MSG. The Rangers swept the weekend by winning both games and gaining the full two points in the standings. That put them ahead of the second place Boston Bruins by seven points, which they will have the opportunity to make nine with a victory tonight at the TD Garden.
Boston has been said to be the Rangers' biggest challenge this season being that they've been on their tail the entire year, however the two teams have only met once prior to tonight. That was on January 21 in Boston when the Blueshirts overcame much adversity to defeat the B's, 3-2, in overtime on Marian Gaborik's winner. New York wasn't necessarily the favorite to win that game, but they beat the odds and did anyway. I think tonight, though, with the Bruins struggling a bit and the Rangers having won their last three, things may be looked at a little differently going into this one.
The Bruins went on an impressive seven-game winning streak over the course of December, but since then they have yet to put together three straight wins. They are only 5-4-1 in their last ten games and nearly lost to the Nashville Predators this past weekend before coming back and winning in overtime. Of course, they are still second in the East so it's not like there slight struggles as of late have handicapped them at all, but it's something to note.
They're an all around tough team to play against because they have ample depth at each position. They get offensive production from all four lines, their defense is solid from front-to-back and they obviously have one of the better goaltending tandems in Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask. No on-ice match-up is an easy one when playing the Bruins, so it is crucial that the Rangers match the effort of their opponent throughout their lineup.
I'm not too worried about that since the Rangers showed some real heart in their back-to-back victories on Saturday and Sunday. Playing back-to-backs is never an easy task, but it is even tougher when having to go up against two talented clubs like the Flyers and Capitals. New York handled it well, though, so there are no doubts in my mind that they can take the Bruins tonight at TD Garden.
Creating a nine-point spread between first and second with another win tonight will put the Rangers in good position to potentially run away with the conference lead in coming weeks. Nine points is a very large defecit to make up at this stage of the season, especially when the team ahead of you continues to win in order to maintain that spread. I know the Rangers do not like to look at the standings, but this win will help them out a lot from that standpoint.
Forward Ruslan Fedotenko made the trip to Boston with the team but will be a gametime decision.
Henrik Lundqvist starts in goal.
New York Rangers Lineup