Who would have thought that the third game of the season would have so much importance attached to it? But after the Rangers (0-2-0, 0 pts) lost each of their first two games, not quite resembling the hard-working well-oiled machine of a year ago in the process, Wednesday's Original Six rematch with the Boston Bruins (2-0-0, 4 pts) does seem to have extra added importance to it, especially when considering the 2013 season consists of just 48 games, not the usual 82 where teams have a bit more leeway when it comes to slow starts.
It is clear in listening to head coach John Tortorella and several of his key veterans the past few days that the team clearly understands what needs to change and how to re-establish the hard-nosed identity that was the cornerstone in a 51-win, 109-point, first-place team a year ago. The question that does remain, however, is will that "hard" mentality, as Tortorella refers to it, return and be in evidence against the Bruins on Wednesday night? If not, it could be another long night for the Blueshirts, who already have lost to the physically-imposing and highly-skilled Bruins once this season---3-1 on opening night Saturday in Boston.
The Rangers will need to better in facets of the game as both the Bruins and Penguins (in Sunday's 6-3 contest) outworked the Blueshirts, created far more offensive chances, and played better defensively and in goal. A pair of keys Wednesday will be the Rangers getting in on the firecheck more consistently and holding on to the puck more often than they have, and to receive a quality start from goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who has allowed seven goals in 4 1/2 period of hockey so far this season.
Tortorella may have to tinker with the lineup a bit if Arron Asham is unable to play. Asham missed Tuesday's practice with a mild groin strain after making his Rangers debut Sunday against Pittsburgh. Tuesday at practice Stu Bickel took Asham's spot on the fourth line, while Steve Eminger and Matt Gilroy split time as the sixth defenseman, filling in for Bickel.
It will also be interesting to see if Tortorella uses Rick Nash (a goal and an assist in his first two games as a Ranger), Brad Richards (team-high three points so far) and Marian Gaborik (pointless in two games) on the same line Wednesday after practicing that way Tuesday. Tortorella has been playing Nash with Richards regularly so far, while using Gaborik on a line with Derek Stepan in the first two games.
Boston is off to a perfect start thus far, following their 3-1 win over the Rangers with a 2-1 shootout victory on home ice against the Winnipeg Jets on Monday. The constant in both games has been the stellar play of goaltender Tuukka Rask, the 25 year-old who has replaced the semi-retired two-time Vezina Trophy winner Tim Thomas as Boston's No. 1 netminder. Rask made 20 saves in the opener against the Rangers, and another 26 against Winnipeg through 65 minutes of play. The Finnish goalie also stopped two of three shootout attempts on Monday as Boston won the shootout by a 2-1 margin.
Last season the Rangers and Bruins split the two games they played at Madison Square Garden. The Rangers skated to a 4-3 victory on March 4th, while the Bruins regrouped for a 2-1 win on April 1st.
Will the Rangers exact a little revenge and earn their first win of the 2013 season Wednesday against the Bruins? Share your thoughts and predictions below.