Friday, April 9, 2010

Flyers-Rangers: The Final Countdown

Only one team hasn't officially been eliminated. While the West is all set following the latest Sutter choke job, the East remains unsettled headed into the weekend. The Rangers are that team attempting to squeak in with the Habs, Bruins and Flyers all in limbo. For our club, simply put. Two wins versus Philly starting tonight in a do-or-die scenario at The Garden and they're in for a fifth straight season.

Boston's 3-1 victory over Buffalo tied them for sixth with Montreal, who blew another chance to clinch in a 5-2 loss to Carolina with Eric Staal lighting them up for a hat trick and two assists. The Canadiens finish with nemesis Toronto tomorrow night. Despite two less wins, the B's are sixth due to one game at hand. They host the Canes tomorrow and visit the Caps Sunday on NBC. With 86 points, the Flyers sit eighth two up on the Rangers with the first tiebreaker.

Unless the Rangers win tonight, none of it will mean anything. The Flyers can eliminate them. They should have top scorer Jeff Carter back. He'll wear a protective boot for his left foot that cost him nine games. It's advisable for the MSG hosts to stay out of the box. Aside from staying disciplined, John Tortorella's club will need a fast start. Getting out of the gate quickly like the other night will keep the crowd into it and that should bode well. In what's been a trying season where they've struggled at home, there's simply too much at stake. Turning us against them is the last thing they want.

The Blueshirts should have a decided edge in net in the home-and-home with Henrik Lundqvist going against Brian Boucher. Our bread and butter has been a huge staple of the team's rebirth. He has never missed the playoffs and doesn't intend to now. Even with a flawed roster, Henke's played well- entering his 71st start with a 34-27-9 record with a 2.40 GAA, .920 save percentage and four shutouts. During a stretch that's seen the team go 6-1-1 to reach this point, Lundqvist has posted a 1.87 GAA, .936 save percentage along with two shutouts. Except for the disappointing loss to Buffalo Tuesday in which he was pulled for Alex Auld, the 28 year-old Swede's been in holding up his end of the bargain. Two more strong games and it should be enough.

If they are to make this a successful weekend, the Rangers must play well in all facets. Especially against a hated rival who'd love nothing better than ending their season. It's unique since it's a double edged sword with a great rivalry renewed. There should be plenty of intensity from both sides. Figure spark plugs Brandon Prust and Aaron Voros to be in the middle of it with antagonists Daniel Carcillo and Scott Hartnell. The fourth line of Prust, Artem Anisimov and Jody Shelley have been a constant during the home stretch. Tortorella's been rolling four lines, using the checking line plenty. However, as he stated the other day, they cannot be their best line. Top scorer Marian Gaborik has four goals and four assists over the past eight but has been blanked three times, including both losses. He must deliver along with linemates Erik Christensen and Brandon Dubinsky. They've also gotten inspired play from Olli Jokinen, who had a goal and helper Wednesday while linemates Vinny Prospal (G, A) and P.A. Parenteau (A) chipped in. Chris Drury's played well scoring a couple of big goals. These are the games you expect him to step up in. Ryan Callahan hasn't looked good since returning. So, anything you get from him is a bonus. Might Sean Avery return? Who knows.

Since being reunited, Marc Staal and Dan Girardi have been superb. They'll see plenty of big minutes when the teams faceoff on MSG-Plus. Speaking of which, what an absolute travesty it is that this game has been relegated to MSG's second station with a meaningless Knick game on MSG. I get the whole Friday Knicks but come on. Jazzy Jim is such a joke. He sure doesn't deserve our money. No wonder we didn't send in for the playoffs with a ridiculous cost ($68) for the first round. In the '07 Conference Semi versus Buffalo when our only good team had a shot, the second round was twenty-three bucks cheaper. Unfortunately, this is what you're dealing with.

Michal Rozsival's had a couple of tough games in a row and must be better. He's logged a lot of vital minutes and played better since January. Despite what's said about him in other spaces, the guy's important to our team because he plays every situation. For as much as a headache as he can be with the muffed pucks and penalties, Rozy has been winning a lot of battles, sacrifices the body and is an underrated passer as his perfect outlet to Jokinen demonstrated the other night. I probably am alone in thinking it would be a mistake to get rid of him. Unlike stilt Wade Redden, who at least has been better since being teamed with Anders Eriksson, Rozsival has something left. If you subtract both vets, what will the blueline look like? Especially when both Staal and Girardi are up. Mike Del Zotto must be strong in his end. He's been contributing offensively. How he and Rozy perform will be significant.

Finally, if they are to get the job done, they'll need to come out on top in special teams. I already echoed that it would be wise to stay out of the box with Carter returning. Plus the Flyers boast Mike Richards, Simon GagneChris Pronger, Kimmo Timonen and Matt Carle. Claude Giroux's effective on the man-advantage too. Both teams have good PK units with familiar face Blair Betts leading the charge for the orange and black. How ironic that they face each other with it all on the line.

The teams have split the season series (2-2) with each having won in the other's building. The Rangers took the last meeting at MSG 3-1 on 3/12. Can they deliver? We'll know soon enough.

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