As the Rangers (21-16-4, 46 pts) enter the next-to-last week of the 2013 regular season, they control their own playoff destiny---holding on to the eighth and final post-season spot in the Eastern Conference, though just two points up on the Winnipeg Jets. They would, however, prefer to improve their lot, which is most definitely possible, as well, as they sit only a point behind the seventh-place Islanders and two behind the sixth-place Senators.
Tonight the Rangers skate in Philadelphia against the12th place Flyers (18-21-3, 39 pts), a desperate team clinging to very faint playoff hopes. After Tuesday the week gets busy with a home game against the Panthers on Thursday followed by a road contest in Buffalo on Friday, and back home for an afternoon Garden clash with the Devils on Sunday. Each of the teams the Rangers face this week trail them in the standings, making this a crucial week for the Blueshirts, who are 5-1-1 in their last seven games and who are well-rested having played just once in the previous five days.
However the Rangers are well aware that they can ill afford to take any team, any game, lightly right now. They have been burned already this season by disappointing losses in Buffalo and at Madison Square Garden to the Panthers, part of what has been a fairly inconsistent season for the Blueshirts. But playing some of their most inspired hockey of the year at present, the Rangers are well aware they need to take care of the task at hand.
The Rangers are coming off a wildy exciting 1-0 overtime win on Long Island on Saturday. Dan Girardi's game-winner capped a thrilling contest, one that certainly provided renewed energy to the Rangers-Islanders rivalry. When the Rangers look at the tape of that game, though, they see that the Islanders had the better of the chances and spent more time in the Rangers end of the ice, things that need to change this evening in Philly. Still the Rangers battle level was extremely high, and when Henrik Lundqvist is playing at the top of his game, as his coach John Tortorella stated the other day, the Blueshirts become awfully hard to beat.
A let down can not be afforded tonight against a struggling Flyers squad which has disappointed all season long. The Flyers did snap a four-game losing streak with a resounding 7-3 victory in Montreal last night, keeping their flickering playoff hopes alive. Those seven goals not only equaled a team season-high---set twice before---but they more than doubled Philly's output the previous four games. During its four-game skid the Flyers notched just three goals in total---scoring once three times and being shut out in one game by the Sabres.
Before their four-game skid the Flyers were making a mini run at the Rangers and Islanders for a playoff berth, winning four straight, scoring 18 times in that span. Scoring has been a major issue when the Flyers have played the Rangers this season, though. The Blueshirts have surrendered just seven goals in four games against the Flyers, skating to a 3-1-0 record against Philly so far this season. At the Wells Fargo Center the Rangers have split a pair of games, losing 2-1 back on January 24th before hammering the Flyers 5-2 on March 26th.
Tortorella is likely to dress the same lineup for the seventh straight contest since the NHL trade deadline, with Lundqvist expected to make his eighth straight start in goal. Philly is banged up on its blueline with a string of injuries, losing another regular---Kent Huskins---to a concussion last night. As a result Luke Schenn logged a career-high 33:25 in the win over the Canadiens at the Bell Centre on Monday. Workhorse Ilya Bryzgalov likely will start yet again in goal for the Flyers, though newcomer Steve Mason is also a viable option.
Will the Rangers win their third straight game tonight, and improve their playoff chances? Share your predictions below.