Originally posted on The Rangers Tribune  |  Last updated 3/17/12

The New York Rangers were understandably displeased with the outcome of Thursday's 5-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins at MSG, which cut their first place lead down to just four points in the Eastern Conference. But as was noted earlier today on the blog, that game served as a useful reality check for this hockey team, as they finally met their match in a team that is undoubtedly stronger and faster than themselves. It's something they needed - something that will better prepare them for the playoffs moving forward. It all depends on how they respond to that loss and what they took from it, and we will get our first glimpse of just that tonight. 

Madison Square Garden has played host to the last three Rangers games, and will again tonight as the Blueshirts take on the Colorado Avalanche in their fourth game of a seven-game homestand. To this point the Rangers have went 2-1-0 with wins over the Islanders and Hurricanes, and then obviously the loss to the Penguins on Thursday. The match-up with the Pens was the toughest so far, but tonight's meeting with the Colorado Avalanche won't be much easier. 

You may look at the standings in the Western Conference and notice that the Avs have only 81 points on the year. But, you should also take notice that they are holding on for dear life in the eighth place spot right now. Five teams in the West all have 80-81 points right now, and all five are battling for the final two playoff spots. At the moment the Avalanche have one, but they need to win as many of their final nine games as they can if they wish to maintain it.

To this point they haven't done a bad job, going 5-1-1 in their last seven games. Tonight's tilt will mark the end of the road trip before they return to Colorado, and with the Rangers being in first place in the East, it's certainly a win they will want for confidence reasons. The Avalanche will be a very desperate hockey team tonight and are going to go right at the Blueshirts. They can score goals and most of all they are very fast. Not to mention they just recently got star forward Matt Duchene back from injury. 

I made note of Colorado's speed, because that is something the Rangers have greatly struggled with this season, especially now as the wear and tear of the season is taking a toll on their bodies. We saw it against Pittsburgh - the Rangers simply couldn't keep up in the neutral and defensive zones and combined with their turnovers, it cost them. 

While there may not be very much the Rangers can do about speed, they can at least prevent the unnecessary turnovers. Careless hockey is not going to fly with head coach John Tortorella at this stage of the season, so I'm sure these mistakes were pointed out over and over again yesterday in practice. The Rangers aren't a peewee team, so there's no reason they should be making such foolish errors. It got to the point where it was embarrassing on Thursday, and it will be again if they continue to cough the puck up tonight. 

The lineup is completely up in the air right now, but here's a quick rundown:

- Ryan Callahan (foot) took part in today's morning skate and confirmed that he will be in the lineup. 

- Michael Del Zotto (hip) did not confirm anything, but he is also expected to return. Don't count on it, though. 

- Steve Eminger and Artem Anisimov are both out with undisclosed injuries and will not play tonight. 

- Ruslan Fedotenko (flu) did not skate this morning, but is expected to play. 

- Henrik Lundqvist will most likely be starting in goal for the Rangers. 

- Defenseman Tim Erixon has been recalled from the AHL, but has not yet been told that he will be in the lineup. 

New York Rangers Lineup:

TBA

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