Following last night's home win over the Florida Panthers, their 5th consecutive victory and 7th in their last 8 games, the Rangers appear to be firmly looking up at the 6th seeded Montreal Canadiens rather than down at the 8th and 9th seeded Buffalo Sabres and Carolina Hurricanes. For a team that knows all too well how important each and every point is at this time of the season, it was "very important to win a game like that this time of year", as coach John Tortorella commented during his post-game presser.
More post-game and Future Watch after the jump.
Panthers vs Rangers coverage
Coming home for a 2 game homestand against non-playoff teams Florida and Ottawa after a very emotional, character road win against division rival Pittsburgh, a let-down could have been a possibility, and was expected in some circles. What this year's edition of the Blueshirts has shown us, in comparison to previous years since the 1994 championship, is that they're going to be the team that outworks the other most nights. The Rangers maintained their focus, despite playing a team that is no longer in contention. There was no playoff atmosphere as there had been in recent games against Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, which makes these sort of games late in the season interestingly difficult.
The emergence of the Brandon Dubinsky - Artem Anisimov - Ryan Callahan line has made last year's leading goal scorer Marian Gaborik a 2nd line wing this season. Despite the fact that the Rangers were only able to put one goal past Tomas Vokoun, the line of entirely homegrown talent was buzzing around the net all night long and were the best line on the ice for either team. Strong both offensively and defensively, the trio has been the spark plug behind the recent success the team has seen, and is helping solidify their playoff position.
Senators vs Rangers coverage
The Rangers will play another non-contending team Thursday night when they host the Ottawa Senators. There has been speculation that Henrik Lundqvist, fresh off his league leading 10th shutout of the year, which matched his career high, may get the night off, but from what the King had to say after the Florida game, signs point to the contrary. "I feel great," said Lundqvist, following his 18th consecutive start. "I don’t feel tired. I don’t think my body has felt this good in a lot of years. It’s nice to go out for practice and nothing’s bothering me." For the Rangers to win the Stanley Cup, Lundqvist would end up having to play approximately 50 consecutive games. It is for this reason that Lundqvist is expected to get a night off at some point, but it may come only after a playoff spot has officially been secured.
Hockey's Future has updated their Top 20 rankings for the Rangers prospect system. The prospect-grading website continues to laud the Rangers for compiling an enviable stable of prospects, despite only having made one top-10 selection in the past 5 seasons. To no surprise, Chris Kreider maintains his rank as the top prospect in the Blueshirt system. The 19th overall pick in 2009, Kreider is expected to turn pro this offseason and start his professional career with the Whale, but he will be given a long look in next year's training camp.
Also causing some buzz are forwards Carl Hagelin and Christian Thomas, the former a defensively responsible forward from Michigan University and the latter an undersized sniper with legitimate top-6 potential playing for the Oshawa Generals of the OHL. It is expected that Hagelin will join Dylan McIlrath and Ryan Bourque as rookies with the Whale next season. Due to Thomas' age, he will either be a Ranger or a General next season.
There may be a few roster spots open into next season, as players such as Vinny Prospal, Ruslan Fedotenko, Matt Gilroy, Steve Eminger, and the forgotten injured Alex Frolov are all at the end of their Ranger contracts. Additionally, forwards Sean Avery, Chris Drury, and Erik Christensen may all be "relieved of their duties" for the Blueshirts. Youth will continue to be served on Broadway. Pavel Valentenko, who is the forgotten piece brought in from the Scott Gomez trade thanks to the fantastic play of Ryan McDonagh, will challenge for a spot on the blue line, and forwards Evgeny Grachev and Dale Weise will make efforts to crack the forward corps.
Contributor to Blueshirt Banter Radio