Having lost three straight--two in regulation and one in overtime--the Rangers (33-26-4, 70 pts) look to get off the mat Friday night when they skate against the Carolina Hurricanes (27-26-9, 63 pts) at the PNC Arena, a contest pitting a pair of Metropolitan Division teams trying to assert themselves in a tight playoff race. These two teams--who have not faced off against one another in four months--will see plenty of each other the rest of the way, playing three times over the next 32 days, including twice within a week as the Rangers return to Raleigh next Tuesday.
Both teams have one win since the NHL schedule resumed following the three-week Olympic break. The Rangers are 1-2-1, coming off Wednesday's 3-2 overtime loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs at Madison Square Garden, though they have dropped three straight since a 2-1 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks on February 27th. The Hurricanes closed out a difficult five-game road trip coming out of the break with a thrilling 3-2 overtime win over the San Jose Sharks this past Tuesday. They had lost the first four games of the trip, outscored 15-7 along the way.
The Rangers will be hoping that recent history will remain on their side Friday as they have won nine consecutive games against the Hurricanes--including five in a row in Raleigh--dating to a 4-3 victory on February 22, 2011.
Henrik Lundqvist will start for the fourth consecutive contest on Friday. After allowing a combined total of ten goals in weekend losses to the Flyers and Bruins, Lundqvist was often spectacular Wednesday against the Maple Leafs, finishing with 26 saves. He could not be faulted on Tyler Bozak's game-winning goal from in front 1:51 into overtime, nor could he be blamed when Bozak beat him on a penalty shot earlier in the game, either. That said, Lundqvist emphasized that this time of year it's about getting the two points every night and he has to help his team find a way to do that on a more consistent basis.
Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh--who played a shade under 30 minutes Wednesday--also stressed that "there are no moral victories" this time of the season, and while it was good New York rallied from a 2-0 third-period deficit to earn a point in the standings by forcing overtime with a pair of shorthanded goals, the bottom line is that the Rangers absolutely needed both points at stake, not just one of them.
Still, one point was better than none Wednesday; and much credit goes to veteran Dominic Moore who scored one shorthanded goal and assisted on another just 79 seconds apart in the third period. He earned extra ice-time as a result of his strong play, moving up to take Derek Dorsett's spot on the third line.
Whether or not Dorsett is on the third line--or even in the lineup--against Carolina is not yet known. Mats Zuccarello could be cleared to play Friday after missing four games with a non-displaced fracture in his left hand. Head coach Alain Vigneault said that it will be a gametime decision whether or not Zuccarello can return to the lineup on Friday. If Zuccarello returns against Carolina that would give the Rangers another major boost to their offense one game after Martin St. Louis made his Rangers debut.
The new-look Rangers, featuring the high-flying St. Louis, will be taking dead aim on a Hurricanes squad that has struggled to score goals of its own and that can be at times an adventure defensively. Carolina enters play seven points behind the third-place Rangers, and with a minus 21 goal differential on the season. Jeff Skinner leads the team in goals with 23.
While the Rangers were busy adding St. Louis and defenseman Raphael Diaz at the deadline Wednesday, Carolina made one move--dealing veteran Tuomo Ruuttu to the Devils in exchange for center Andrei Loktionov, who is expected to play against the Rangers after practicing with his new club on Thursday.