Tonight, the Rangers get together with the Bruins in an Original 6 match-up. The game time is 7 PM at TD Garden. It’s the third and final regular season match between old rivals.
The Rangers took the first two games by identical scores of 5-2. The first win coming at MSG on Oct. 26 and the second at TD Garden on Nov. 5. At the time, Boston wasn’t as good. Since Bruce Cassidy took over as interim coach, they’ve won seven of eight and are tied in points (72) with the Senators for second in the Atlantic Division. However, they’ve played two more games and have 19 left entering play. Boston is three up on second wildcard Toronto and four clear of the Islanders and Panthers.
In the season series, Derek Stepan leads the Rangers with five points (1-4-5). They would sure like to see that trend continue with Stepan locked in an 18-game goal drought. He needs to step it up. The team will get Mika Zibanejad back after missing the Washington game due to a wrist injury. With Michael Grabner unavailable, they have recalled Pavel Buchnevich as an emergency call up. As if he shouldn’t be in the lineup over Brandon Pirri or Matt Puempel, who will stay intact with Oscar Lindberg on the fourth line.
At least Vigneault took my advice and broke up Stepan, Rick Nash and Jimmy Vesey. He also reunited Buchnevich with Zibanejad and Nash. It’s about time. Hopefully, they have a good night and Buchnevich forces the coach to keep him up. Stepan will be reunited with Chris Kreider and Mats Zuccarello. A combo that worked really well resulting in Stepan’s best production of the season. Vesey slides down to the third line with Kevin Hayes and J.T. Miller. Both need good games. Particularly Hayes who has reverted to last year.
Tonight marks the Rangers debut of former Detroit defenseman Brendan Smith. The 28-year old will be paired up with former Wisconsin teammate Ryan McDonagh. As seen in the picture above, he’ll be wearing number 42. He’s said all the right things. Now, it’s time to see what Smith can bring to the blue line. A lack of edge has been missing. Smith supposedly can add that. Hopefully, he makes a good first impression.
The other pairs are familiar ones. Nick Holden moves back to play with Marc Staal while Brady Skjei and Adam Clendening remain intact. There is concern about Holden and Staal, who both have slipped recently. They need to be stronger defensively. Skjei and Clendening have been solid. When Kevin Klein and Dan Girardi are healthy, it could get dicey.
Henrik Lundqvist makes his third consecutive start. He has allowed nine goals on 64 shots in the last two losses. Neither of which were his fault. The team played poorly. There were too many sloppy turnovers and blown assignments. Forwards weren’t coming back enough. They still finished February with a 9-3-1 record and remain fourth in the Metropolitan Division with 82 points and 19 games remaining. They’re comfortably in the first wildcard 13 clear of the Leafs and 14 up on the Islanders and Panthers. The Lightning have crept up thanks to the hot play of Nikita Kucherov. They’re up to 66 points with 20 games left.
Aside from the defensive woes along with getting pushed around by the Blue Jackets and Capitals, the Rangers special teams are a mess. The power play remains an eye sore. It’s 1 for the last 29 and currently ranks 17th at 18.4 percent. The penalty kill has dropped off. They’re down to 16th at 80.8 percent with them much worst at home. The same can be echoed for the power play. The Rangers ranks of 26th on the man-advantage and 25th on the penalty kill at MSG is ridiculous. Conversely, they’re fourth on the PP on the road and sixth on the PK. It helps explain why they lead the league with 21 road wins. They’re 21-8-0 away from MSG.
Boston ranks 13th on the power play at 20.0 percent including 14th at home (19.8 percent). Their penalty kill is the best in the league tied for first killing off 85.7 percent. That includes a rank of second at home going 87.5 percent. Interestingly, both teams enter tonight tied for the most shorthanded goals with eight each. Miller and Brad Marchand each have three. Since he entered the NHL in ’09-10, Marchand leads all players in shorthanded goals with 22- ranking third on Boston’s all-time list behind Rick Middleton (25) and Derek Sanderson (24).
Marchand has been on fire. Over the past 13 games, he’s notched 11 goals and 10 assists. His 66 points (28-38-66) are tied for fourth with Brent Burns in NHL scoring. Patrice Bergeron has also been playing much better recently. He’s 6-13-19 in the last 13. Always a great two-way player, the former Selke winner is tied for third in the NHL in face-offs winning 59.0 percent. As a team, Boston ranks third winning 53.0 percent.
Tuukka Rask gets the start for Boston. He has 30 wins in 50 games with a 2.27 goals-against-average and .913 save percentage. Whenever Rask and Lundqvist face each other, it’s fun. They’re two of the best goaltenders. Both are former Vezina winners and each have carried their teams to Stanley Cup Final appearances.
For Lundqvist, it’s a special day. He turns 35 today. It would be nice to see him get a win on his birthday. Hopefully, the team will go above and beyond the call of duty. Happy Birthday Henrik! 🙂