Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden the Rangers (8-5-1, 17 pts) close out their three-game homestand with a tilt against their Original Six rivals, the Montreal Canadiens (10-4-1, 21 pts). This also closes out a stretch where the Blueshirts have played five of six games on home ice before heading to Canada Thursday for a two-game trip to Ottawa and Montreal. The Rangers have earned at least one point in a season-best five straight games (4-0-1) heading into their contest with the Canadiens on Tuesday.
After playing a pair of games in which they let leads slip away before being decided in the shootout last week, the Rangers put forth perhaps their most complete 60-minute effort of ther 2013 season in beating the Washington Capitals 2-1 on Sunday night. The Blueshirts dominated territorially, controlled the puck throughout, fired 40 shots on goal, received excellent goaltending from Henrik Lundqvist, were a perfect 4-for-4 on the penalty kill against one of the league's top power plays, rallied from an early 1-0 deficit, and scored the game-winner on a picture-perfect power play sequence. In review, there was not a whole lot more or better the Rangers could have done in their victory.
All that said, Sunday's victory did come with a price. Sparkplug forward Darroll Powe suffered a concussion when his head hit the ice after an accidental center-ice collision with Washington's Matt Hendricks. Powe was placed on Injured Reserve on Monday, and the team is unsure how long he will be missing from the lineup. His loss is significant as Powe has provided much energy to the Rangers lineup---not to mention some excellent penalty killing---since being acquired from Minnesota a couple of weeks ago.
Powe's place in the lineup will be taken by one of two rookies, either Chris Kreider or Brandon Mashinter---the latter a hulking 6-foot-4 forward who was recalled from the Connecticut Whale on Monday after notching 11 points and 23 penalty minutes in 14 games with the Whale since arriving in a trade from San Jose earlier in the season. Mashinter has brief NHL experience with the Sharks and would provide the Rangers a physical presence in the lineup should he play.
The Rangers are 6-2-1 on home ice so far this season. Tonight will mark their tenth game at The Garden out of the first 15 they have played on the season. It remains imperative that the Blueshirts continue their strong home ice play for the inevitable group of difficult road games that face them come the month of March.
Tuesday's home contest will be of special interest as popular former Ranger Brandon Prust returns for the first time since signing as a free agent with the Canadiens last summer. Prust, who scored his second goal of the season in Montreal's 3-0 win over Carolina Monday night, became an important part of the Rangers core the previous two-plus seasons and was extremely popular with The Garden Faithful. The current NHL leader in penalty minutes with 71, it would be hard-pressed to believe that Prust won't find his way into a scrap tonight, with Arron Asham a likely foe.
Montreal enters play Tuesday having won four games in a row, including the last two with All Star goaltender Carey Price sidelined because of the flu. His backup Peter Budaj backstopped a 4-1 victory over the Flyers on Saturday and then stopped all 19 shots in the 3-0 shutout over the Hurricanes on Monday---a game which was scoreless into the third period. During their current four-game winning streak, the Canadiens have allowed only four goals and have had a pair of shutouts---the other backstopped by Price, a 1-0 overtime win last Thursday against the Florida Panthers. This is Montreal's second four-game winning streak of the season already.
After failing to make the playoffs a year ago, the Canadiens currently sit atop the Northeast Division standings with 21 points, just one off first place overall in the Eastern Conference. They are 3-1-1 on the road, and have given up only 34 goals in 15 games played.
Last season the Rangers split their four-game season series with the Canadiens, though winning both games at The Garden. On November 5, 2011 the Blueshirts triumphed over the Canadiens 5-3, and on March 30, 2012 at MSG the Rangers skated to a 4-1 victory as Brad Richards recorded a three-point (1-2-3) night.
Are you excited for Brandon Prust's return to The Garden? Or are you more excited for a Rangers victory Tuesday? Share your comments and game predictions below.