After two emotional wins on the road the close out their week, the Rangers (39-29-4, 82 pts) return to Madison Square Garden Monday night to face the Phoenix Coyotes.
The two wins over Columbus and New Jersey have given the Rangers a little — but not much — breathing room in both the Metropolitan Division and Eastern Conference standings. The Blueshirts enter the contest with 82 points, three point ahead of Washington and four up on Columbus, though the Blue Jackets have a game in hand. The Rangers are two points up on Toronto and three points up on Detroit in the Wild Card standings, though the Red Wings have two games in hand.
While one eye must be in the rear-view mirror, the Rangers also must keep pace with the Philadelphia Flyers, who currently hold a one-point advantage over the Rangers for second in the Metropolitan, though they’ve played two fewer games. The two teams face each other Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.
Following Tuesday’s erratice defensive effort in an 8-4 win over Ottawa, the Rangers have been stellar in their own end over the last two games, and have allowed just one goal over the last two games, including a 2-0 shutout of the Devils Saturday night.
While the team’s top-three blueliners are giving what you’d expect, the team’s bottom-three defensemen have been reliable as well, including newcomer Raphael Diaz, who made his debut Saturday night in place of the injured John Moore.
The Rangers have been getting contributions throughout the lineup, starting with Rick Nash, who has scored three goals in three games, including the game-winner against the Devils. Derek Stepan, the team’s No. 1 center, has also been impressive of late, posting five points in his last five games, including goals in three straight games.
Head coach Alain Vigneault will release his lineup for the Coyotes later in the day. While he’s been hesitant to change his groupings following a win, he did swap Derek Dorsett for Dan Carcillo Friday night before going back to Carcillo Saturday night.
Before the puck drops, the Rangers should get a nice boost of energy from the Garden Faithful, as Henrik Lundqvist will be honored for becoming the organization’s all-time leader in both wins and shutouts in a pregame ceremony.
The Rangers and Coyotes haven’t seen each other since Game 1 of the season, a 4-1 Phoenix victory. After all this time, both teams are approaching the contest as if its the first time they’ve faced off.
A recent 7-3 surge has Phoenix right back into the mix out west, as they enter Monday’s game currently two points up on Dallas for the second and final Wild Card spot. The Coyotes have been uncharacteristically shoddy on defense, but an increase in scoring over recent years have helped them to 36 wins thus far on the year.
The Coyotes enter the game following a 4-2 loss at home to Boston on Saturday night.