Sunday night at Madison Square Garden a pair of hungry teams from the NHL's Original Six meet up looking for bounce-back efforts after defeats 24 hours prior as the Rangers (33-25-3, 69 pts) host the Boston Bruins (37-17-5, 79 pts). On Saturday the Rangers never held the lead before falling to the Flyers in Philadelphia by the score of 4-2, while in Boston the Bruins fell into a 3-0 hole before scrambling back to within 3-2 en-route to a 4-2 loss to the Washington Capitals.
For the Rangers Saturday was an afternoon full of missed opportunities. They had a pair of power plays within the game's first four minutes, and failed to convert on either, which was magnified when the Flyers scored twice shortly thereafter, forcing the Rangers into playing catch-up the rest of the game. Also Chris Kreider and J.T. Miller both missed gaping wide-open nets with shots that sailed wide from in front in the second period, opportunities that could have most definitely turned the score, and the game's momentum, in the Rangers' favor.
That said, head coach Alain Vigneault was not overly displeased with his team's effort on Saturday--especially in that second period when the Rangers largely carried the play, and also scored both of their goals. However with the game hanging in the balance in the third period, the coach lamented the fact that the Rangers could not generate consistent chances against Philly's Steve Mason--who still had to make a huge one-on-one save on Derek Stepan's put-back midway through the period.
The loss snapped New York's six-game road winning streak; and the Rangers have now split their first two games overall since returning from the break. Sunday's game will be a major challenge as not only did Boston lose on home ice Saturday, the Bruins were also beaten 5-4 in overtime Wednesday by the Buffalo Sabres, meaning they have lost both of their contests played after the break. Taking it a step further, the Bruins are just 1-1-2 in their last four games, including the last two prior to the Olympic break. In short the Atlantic Division leaders hold themselves to an extremely high standard and will be looking to right their ship at the Rangers; expense Sunday night.
The Blueshirts, of course, had been in the midst of playing their best hockey of the season prior to the break, and they continue to be in a real battle for a playoff spot in their own Metropolitan Division. New York is 17-7-1 in its last 25 games overall, yet has just a one-point lead over the Flyers for second place in this division after Saturday's defeat.
With the Rangers trying to hold off the Flyers, Capitals, Blue Jackets and Devils--all of whom are within four points or less of New York--and the Bruins looking to remain ahead of Montreal and Tampa Bay--with both teams breathing down the B's neck in the Atlantic--Sunday's contest shapes up to be a real good one.
Henrik Lundqvist, who stopped 27 of 31 shots Saturday, likely will make the start in goal Sunday for the Rangers. Though Vigneault has preferred not to play his No. 1 goalie in back-to-backs this season,, the fact that Saturday's game was an afternoon contest and Sunday's is at night, coupled with the minimal travel involved and the importance of the two points at hand against an elite opponent, would lead one to believe that Lundqvist will start over Cam Talbot, despite Talbot's brilliant showing against the Blackhawks in Thursday's 2-1 victory.
In 32 career games against the Bruins, Lundqvist is 21-9-2 with a 1.71 GAA and six shutouts.
Tuukka Rask, Finland's bronze medal winning goalie, also allowed four goals on 31 shots in a Saturday defeat and also would seem to be the Bruins starting goalie on Sunday, the pick over former Ranger Chad Johnson. Rask ranks fourth in the NHL with a .927 save percentage, seventh in wins with 25, and eighth with a 2.16 goals against average so far this season.
Vigneault, who scratched Dominic Moore so that Derek Dorsett could return to the lineup on Saturday, was non-committal about his lineup for Sunday. He will announce who will play when he meets with reporters at 5:00 PM.