The Rangers took off for south Florida following their 4-1 win over the Devils Sunday afternoon at The Garden, and on Monday the team practiced at the BB&T Arena in Sunrise as the Blueshirts prepare for their next match Tuesday night against the Panthers.
It was an upbeat workout for a Rangers team that has won three straight and is 8-2-1 down the stretch, closing in on an Eastern Conference playoff berth. All healthy Rangers skated except for team captain Ryan Callahan, who was given a maintenance day following his two-goal, five-hit performance against New Jersey. Both injured Rangers, Derek Dorsett---who wore the orange non-contact jersey again Monday, and Marc Staal---again using a tinted visor, took part in the practice.
"You wake up in the morning eager to come to the rink and hang out with the guys," winger Mats Zuccarello said after practice in Sunrise. "When you play the games it's fun, we've been winning a lot lately. It's hard to explain, but it's just fun being out there. And the winning makes it all much easier."
Of course it hasn't been all easy for the Rangers in this 48-game truncated season. There has been inconsistent play, slumps by key players, a trade-deadline shakeup of the roster. But yet the Rangers are on the verge of earning a spot in the playoffs in the final week of the regular season.
"We put ourselves in this position," explained Rangers head coach John Tortorella on Monday. "We were never far gone, always were treading water. We have had troubles with our consistency, but I look at the deal (with Columbus) and it solidifies the middle of our lineup and I think we have grown as a team."
Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who confirmed on Monday that he will make his season-high 12th straight start in Tuesday's contest against the Panthers, spoke of how rewarding it's been to see the Rangers come together down the stretch this season, while also pointing out how difficult the shortened season has been for him and the team.
"It's been intense, it really has," stated Lundqvist, who ranks second in the NHL with 22 victories this season. "It's a test. It's definitely been a test for your mind to try and reach that focus again with so little time between games. But I knew going in it would be more intense with the reduced schedule and having such a long break. But I feel great, and hopefully we have a couple more months to go at it here."
After months of trying to get their collective game together, the Rangers are in an excellent rhythym now with Lundqvist on top of his game, the team playing fairly solidly defensively in front of him, and the offense having woken up to the tune of 18 goals in their last three games.
"As a group we are in a good flow," explained Lundqvist. "And it feels good to just be out there."
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