The New York Rangers are returning to their winning ways as we enter the home stretch of the 2011-12 regular season. Their 4-3 victory over the Boston Bruins at Madison Square Garden on Sunday was the team’s fourth win in their last five games, which has put them in the first place spot in the NHL and atop the Eastern Conference standings by an astounding twelve points over the second place B’s. The Blueshirts are again rolling just as they did in November when they first made the ascension to the top of the division, the conference and later the league, and you couldn’t hope for a better time for the club to begin to heat up with the playoffs just around the corner.
A challenging three-game road trip awaits the Rangers, though, and it all begins tonight against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center. These cross-river rivals have met a total of four previous times this season, and so far they’ve split the series having each won a game at home and away. Only two matches between the Rangers and Devils remain on the schedule, so this will be New York’s final visit to The Rock, unless they faceoff with the Devils down the road in the playoffs.
Their last affair was just last Monday to conclude Trade Deadline Day in the NHL, in which the Rangers ended up shutting out Zach Parise and the Devs, 2-0. Despite the low total on the scoreboard, the tilt contained much excitement and also great amounts of animosity. Much of that animosity stemmed from the actions of instigator David Clarkson, who was penalized several times and also given a 10-minute game misconduct for running his mouth.
Clarkson may have a target on his back going into tonight’s game, but not for the trash talking. In the second half of last Monday’s contest, Clarkson took it upon himself to leap at the head of a defenseless Brandon Dubinsky along the boards, which ignited a fight between the two and much controversy after. Clarkson did not receive a fine or a suspension for his foolish act, even though that’s the exact play the league is looking to eliminate, so in my mind, he has yet to pay the proper price for what he did.
New Jersey will need Clarkson, and many others, to focus on the hockey aspect of the game tonight, however, as the team is still in the midst of a major slump which most recently featured a 1-0 shutout loss to the Islanders on Sunday evening. The Devils have won just one of their last six games, so this is one they will want to steal from their ‘older brother’ to gain some confidence back.
The Rangers, on the other hand, are sky high right now after taking down the defending Stanley Cup Champion Bruins on Sunday. As I said, the Blueshirts are beginning to show signs of the unstoppable team we saw earlier in the season when it seemed like they were getting two points literally every night. Their magic number to clinch a playoff spot is now only 12 points, so they are getting closer.
The points will be hard to come by this week, still, as after their visit to Jersey, the Rangers will then go up to Ottawa to take on the Senators and then to Chicago where they will rematch the Blackhawks. All three of these teams are in the thick of the playoff picture in their respective conferences, which means the Rangers have a few tough hockey games ahead of them.
Henrik Lundqvist will be starting in goal for the Blueshirts while defenseman Steve Eminger will be inserted into the lineup in front of Hank on defense. The Rangers have not announced who will sit in Eminger's place.
Also, captain Ryan Callahan will possibly be making his return after a three-game absence due to a bruised foot. He will be a gametime decision based on warm-ups, so when all of this becomes avialable, I'll have the lineup posted for y'all.
New York Rangers Lineup