The Canes finally solved Jimmy Howard with a pair in the second off the sticks of Derek Joslin and Calder frontrunner Jeff Skinner, whose wraparound with 1:11 left all but ensured the big win. Detroit generated quality chances but even when Ward wasn't stopping them in their tracks, he had some help from a goalpost, which denied Pavel Datsyuk's tying bid. Datsyuk certainly was dangerous but no Red Wing could solve Ward, who turned it up and looks like he'll be awfully tough to beat in Carolina's final two regular season games at Atlanta tomorrow and home for Tampa Bay Saturday. Ward and a strong Canes' PK held off a Detroit two-man advantage before Eric Staal cruised down the other way and promptly set up sizzling linemate Erik Cole for the final tally. Staal set up all three goals while Ward recorded his fourth shutout (16th career) as Carolina pulled within two of the Blueshirts, who host those Thrashers tonight.
One team can play a huge role in who makes it. Over the next 24 hours (30 for those keeping track), the Thrashers will try to spoil it for either the Rangers or Canes. Both teams must remember to show up to the rink on time because Atlanta is very formidable- boasting dangerous Dustin Byfuglien and Tobias Enstrom on the back end while captain Andrew Ladd leads the offense up front that includes budding sophomore Evander Kane, ex-Bruin Blake Wheeler, Bryan Little, Nik Antropov and grinders Anthony Stewart and Chris Thorburn. Ondrej Pavelec can also be a pain if he gets hot. The Thrashers don't play much D, which explains Pavelec's solid .910 save percentage. By no means will Atlanta roll over for either club. Especially the Rangers, who have to do it without emotional leader Ryan Callahan against a team that owns them. Entering tonight, they have yet to take a game in the season series, dropping two in regulation and one in overtime. In fact, the last four times Atlanta's visited MSG, they've sent the Garden Faithful home unsatisfied. If that happens tonight, it could be fatal. The Rangers are looking to reverse a trend that's seen their opponent go 12-3-3 against them over the last 18 meetings.
Getting off quickly would definitely be a good idea. The Thrashers have nothing to play for outside of pride. Score early and perhaps they'll go away. Minus Callahan, the Rangers will need everyone to step up including MIA Act Marian Gaborik, who should see important minutes possibly with Artem Anisimov and Brandon Dubinsky. Gaborik hasn't scored in seven straight and likely won't play with Vinny Prospal, who should start with Derek Stepan and Wojtek Wolski. It'll be interesting to see what John Tortorella does as far as Gaborik who was shifted to the checking line with Brian Boyle and Brandon Prust, helping set up Mike Sauer's exciting game-winner. Does he keep him on the energy line, hoping it rubs off or will we see Gabby reunited with Erik Christensen? Speaking of vanishing acts, Christy has again disappeared after a great stretch in March before a futile finish. Matt Gilroy is expected to dress as a forward, something the former Hobey Baker winner did in college before making the switch. How much will Tort use a talented player with offensive insincts?
Assuming Gabby starts with Boyle, here's what we see:
You know with Tortorella, nothing's etched in stone. He'll do whatever he can to get the most of a team that's been resilient all year. Now, they face even more adversity with the enemy Devils licking their chops at the prospect of ruining what's been a feel good story. The task is simple. Like Adrienne said to Rocky after giving birth in Rocky II:
From #NYR Tweep @BigGun_s: #Rally4Cally