The Rangers (10-8-2, 22 pts) host the Flyers (11-11-1, 23 pts) Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden to close out a season-high four-game homestand. The outcome of the game will go a long way in deciding how the Rangers will feel about this homestand because 3-1-0 certainly sounds much better than 2-2-0 or 2-1-1, especially when considering the Rangers lost the opener of the homestand to Winnipeg before earning back-to-back victories over Tampa Bay and Buffalo heading into this evening's contest.
Sunday's 3-2 shootout victory over the Sabres was not nearly as well-played by the Rangers as last Thursday's dominating 4-1 win over the Lightning, but it's still a victory the Blueshirts can be proud of---mainly because they stared down much adversity during the course of the contest and found a way to secure an important two points. With the penalty kill going a perfect 5-for-5---and now 11-for-11 on this homestand---while also killing off a two-man disadvantage in overtime, and the power play clicking twice after Patrick Kaleta's major boarding penalty against Brad Richards, Sunday's win had a special feeling to it. Henrik Lundqvist's last save on Tyler Ennis in the shootout just added the exclamation point to the end result.
Whether or not that victory comes with a price remains to be seen. While Richards was able to return to the game after violently crashing into the boards following the Kaleta hit from behind, he did not practice on Monday, nor did he meet with reporters. However considering the fact that the Rangers did not call a forward up from the minors lends one to believe that Richards should be able to play against the Flyers tonight.
Head coach John Tortorella has gone with the same lineup in each of the last two games since Rick Nash, Ryan McDonagh, and Michael Del Zotto all returned from injury in time for the 4-1 thrashing of the Lightning. Nash, in particular, has stood out, scoring two goals and totaling four points in the two games since returning to the lineup. Plus he added a shootout goal against Ryan Miller on Sunday---as did Ryan Callahan. Nash enters play with a season-best six-game point scoring streak. He has nine points (3-6-9) in that span and leads the team with 16 points (5-11-16) in 16 games played.
Lundqvist, who stopped 28 of 30 shots through 65 minutes of play Sunday, has now allowed two goals or fewer in 10 of his last 14 starts. He has posted a 1.98 goals against average and .927 save percentage over that span. Lundqvist is expected to make his fourth straight start in goal for the Rangers on Tuesday, and his 18th of the season.
Lundqvist and the Rangers have split their first two meetings with the Flyers so far in 2013 after sweeping all six games in their season series a year ago. Philly edged New York 2-1 at the Wells Fargo Center on January 24th despite a sensational 31-save effort from Lundqvist. Five nights later the Rangers responded with a 2-1 win of their own over the Flyers at Madison Square Garden with Del Zotto and Callahan supplying the goals, and Lundqvist stopping 26 of 27 shots. That win lifted the Blueshirts to nine wins in their last ten meetings with the Flyers.
The Flyers have won two straight, three of four, and five of seven entering play tonight. That recent surge has pushed them into eighth place in the Eastern Conference, just one point ahead of the Rangers. Though Brian Boyle said on Monday that it's too early to look at the standings just yet, a regulation victory by the Blueshirts Tuesday would be key because not only would it push them ahead of the Flyers, but the Rangers would still hold three games in hand.
Philly has won in all different ways recently---tight, low-scoring contests like their 2-1 decision over Ottawa on Saturday, blowouts like their 7-0 thrashing of the Islanders on February 18th, and wild affairs, such as their 6-5 win over the Penguins two nights later. The Flyers recent strong play has also help even out a very poor start to the 2013 season, one that saw Philly lose its first three games and post a 2-6-0 mark through eight.
Simon Gagne was recently added to the Flyers roster, rejoining his former club after being traded over from the Los Angeles Kings. Gagne, who spent the first ten years of his career with the Flyers, scored a goal in his return to the black and orange last Thursday against Washington. Interestingly it was his first goal of the season after being shutout in 11 games with the Kings this year.
The Flyers will play without Harry Zolnierczyk tonight, as he was suspended by the NHL for a hit on Ottawa's Mike Lundin.
Will this be another nail-biting one-goal game tonight? Will the physical nature spill over into a fight-filled contest? Who will win? Share your predictions below.