After a strong week in which they earned points in four straight games by posting a 3-0-1 mark, the Rangers (19-15-4, 42 pts) open up this week with a hugely important home and home set with the Toronto Maple Leafs (21-13-4, 46 pts). The first of the set is tonight at the Air Canada Centre, and it concludes Wednesday at Madison Square Garden. Should the Rangers be able to win both contests in regulation, they would move from seventh place into fifth place in the Eastern Conference. A win this evening would lift them past Ottawa, which lost on Sunday, into sixth place.
Looking ahead and not behind them is something the Rangers are more comfortable doing at present because of the better all-around play of the team. However to a man the Rangers agree with head coach John Tortorella that their game needs to be much better tonight than it was on Saturday when a tired Rangers squad relied on Henrik Lundqvist to "steal a win", as the coach put it, with a magnificent 48-save performance to secure a 4-1 win in Carolina. Other than a three-goal second period, the Rangers struggled for stretches against a desperate Hurricanes squad, and Lundqvist put forth one of the signature games of his career in order for the Rangers to earn two points.
After a complete day off on Sunday the Rangers finish their three-games-in-four-nights road trip in Toronto this evening. They are buoyed not only Lundqvist's great play of late, but by a revived power play---which has scored five power play goals in the past three games, the scoring of their top players like Rick Nash, Derek Stepan, and Ryan Callahan---who all netted goals in Carolina, and by a much-more rugged, aggressive style of play. Though they looked tired Saturday playing on the second end of back-to-backs after Friday's grueling game in Pittsburgh, the Rangers have been a much better team at posessing the puck the past week, and that will need to continue against a quality foe tonight in Toronto.
Certainly one of the biggest surprises in the NHL this season is the turnaround of the Maple Leafs, a team that has regularly been on the outside looking in at the playoffs the past few years. The Leafs have improved defensively, but are even more impressive offensively---a good-skating team that relies on puck posession just as much as the Rangers.
The Maple Leafs have won four of their last five games, most recently knocking off the Devils 2-1 in New Jersey on Saturday. They have seemed to right themselves after a mid-March mini-slump that saw the Leafs drop three straight, four of five, and five of seven. Unlike the Rangers who made two significant trades at the NHL trade deadline, the Maple Leafs did not, despite the mass speculation that they were going to acquire Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo. Instead the Leafs will look to finish their playoff push by riding James Reimer, with Benn Scrivens serving as the back up.
Nazem Kadri has had a breakout year offensively, leading the Maple Leafs with 17 goals, 39 points and a +18 plus/minus rating. Off-season acquisition James Van Riemsdyk has had a strong year, as well, ranking second on the team with 15 goals and third with 25 points.
Joffrey Lupul sat out Saturday due to an upper body injury and is not likely to play tonight. He has been limited to ten games played this season, though he does have eight goals and 14 points in those ten.
It's a huge home and home set for the Rangers. How will they fare tonight? Share your predictions below.