A year ago the New Jersey Devils ended the Rangers magical season in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals. This year the Rangers (23-17-4, 50 pts) can bring an end to the Devils (17-17-10, 44 pts) season before the playoffs even begin. That can be accomplished Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden when the two teams meet should the Rangers win in any fashion---regulation, overtime, or shootout.
Coming off back-to-back wins in which they erupted for 14 goals in total, the Rangers bring a 7-2-1 record over their last ten games into Sunday's Garden matinee. Henrik Lundqvist has started all ten of those games---a season-high stretch of consecutive starts for him---and there's no reason to believe he will not start for the 11th straight game, and for the the 20th time in the last 21 contests, on Sunday. Though he surrendered four goals in Friday night's wild 8-4 victory, Lundqvist has been the backbone of the Rangers stretch run. His 21 wins are now two shy of league-leader Antti Niemi of San Jose, and his .926 save percentage ranks fifth in the NHL and his 2.11 goals against average is eighth best.
Thirteen different Rangers notched at least one point in Friday's win up in Buffalo. And of their 14 goals over the previous two matches, Brad Richards has scored four times, Derick Brassard, Mats Zuccarello, and Rick Nash have scored twice, and Carl Hagelin, Ryane Clowe, Ryan Callahan, and Anton Stralman have one apiece. In their strong play over their last ten games the Rangers have scored four or more goals in half those games.
The resurgant offense has spread a certain confidence through the entire lineup, according to Hagelin. But putting up major goal totals against Martin Brodeur and the Devils will be a tall order on Sunday. In two games against New Jersey this season---a win and a loss, both played at the Prudential Center---the Rangers have totaled four goals.
The Devils, playing for their playoff lives, are looking for a third straight win on Sunday, and are coming off an offensive explosion of their own on Saturday when the beat the Panthers 6-2 in New Jersey. Prior to winning back-to-back games this week, the Devils were winless in ten games (0-6-4), a crushing stretch that encompassed three full weeks of the schedule.
Though still without injured defensemen Bryce Salvador and Anton Volchenkov, the Devils did get Ilya Kovalchuk back in their lineup on Saturday after an 11-game injury absence, which coincided with the team's dismal ten-game winless skid. Though he was held off the scoresheet it was a major lift for the Devils to get their most explosive player back in the lineup, and the Rangers most certainly will have to be prepared for what he brings to the rink on Sunday.
The Rangers know they will be facing a desperate and proud Devils team on Sunday. Just last season the Devils played in the Stanley Cup Finals, and now they are on the verge of not even being able to defend their Eastern Conference Championship. Plus they would love to play spoiler as the Rangers move closer to clinching a playoff berth. All of this, plus the great rivalry that the Rangers and Devils have with one another anyway, should make for an exciting afternoon at The Garden on Sunday.
Will the Rangers keep rolling and finish off the Devils on Sunday? Share your predictions below.