It's almost hard to fathom, but beginning tonight the Rangers (14-12-2, 30 pts) have just 20 games remaining on their truncated 2013 season schedule. And it is shaping up as a real sprint to the finish line as the ninth-place Rangers find themselves just two points behind three teams---Toronto, Winnipeg, and this evening's opponent New Jersey (13-10-6, 32 pts)---while being only one point ahead of the Islanders and three points clear of both Tampa Bay and Philadelphia. The Rangers have a game in hand on all of those teams except the Islanders---both teams have played 28 games---and the Flyers---who have played two more games than the Blueshirts.
The Rangers enter tonight's contest in a better state of mind, coming off Monday's 2-1 shootout victory over the Carolina Hurricanes at The Garden. That win snapped a three-game losing streak for the Blueshirts. And even though the team's scoring woes continued---the Rangers have scored only three goals in their last four games---they created far more scoring opportunities and possessed the puck much more often then they had done at any point during the previous week.
Derek Stepan scored the Blueshirts lone goal on 35 shots, with Ryan Callahan earning the primary assist Monday. Of the Rangers last seven goals, Stepan and Callahan have combined to score five of them. Their line---with new addition Carl Hagelin---earned high marks from head coach John Tortorella following the game Monday, while the coach thought reuniting Rick Nash, Brad Richards, and Marian Gaborik on the No. 1 line seemed to work, as well.
Perhaps the line that helped turn the game around after a sluggish start for the Rangers was Brian Boyle's third line with J.T. Miller and Taylor Pyatt. That threesome was dogged on the forecheck and played an extremely physical brand of hockey, creating several scoring chances, as well. In the end it was Miller who scored the deciding goal in the shootout---his first ever NHL shootout goal.
Tonight the Rangers will try and win again on the road, where all three of their recent defeats took place. The Rangers are just 4-7-1 away from The Garden this season, including a 3-1 loss to the Devils on February 5th at the Prudential Center. David Clarkson scored twice in that game for New Jersey, while he and Patrick Elias both finished with three points. The Rangers have lost three of their last four visits to The Rock, not including last spring's post season.
The Devils, who are 9-4-2 on home ice this season, have struggled overall since a strong start to 2013. New Jersey is just 3-7-2 in its last 12 games, falling from the top spot in the Atlantic Division into eighth place in the Eastern Conference. Injuries to several key players including Martin Brodeur and Dainius Zubrus have hurt the Devils, though Brodeur is close to a return. He skated Tuesday morning and is slated to back up Johan Hedberg in goal this evening.
Elias leads the Devils in scoring with 27 points in 29 games, two points better than Ilya Kovalchuk. Clarkson, who came flying out of the gates this season, has cooled considerably, though he still leads the team with 11 goals and ranks third with 19 points.
Will the Rangers win on back-to-back nights Tuesday and hop back into the Eastern Conference's top eight? Share your predictions below.