Their long journey out west almost complete, the Rangers (43-30-4, 90 pts) can call their four-game road trip a rousing success should they close it out Thursday night with a victory over the tough Colorado Avalanche (48-21-6, 102 pts). After dropping a 4-3 decision to the Flames in Calgary last Friday, the Rangers have put together back-to-back wins in Edmonton on Sunday and Vancouver on Tuesday in which they surrendered only one goal in total, outscoring the Oilers and Canucks by a combined 8-1.
Those two wins continue the Rangers overall roll, one that has seen them win seven of their last eight games, and eight of their last ten since March 14th. They remain in second place in the Metropolitan Division, three points up on the Philadelphia Flyers--though Philly has two games in hand--and the Rangers magic number to clinch a playoff spot of any kind is down to three.
On the road, the Rangers have won six of their last seven, and are 23-8-0 over their last 31 road contests. Tuesday's 3-1 victory in Vancouver was their 25th on the road this season, establishing a new franchise record for most road victories. That road success will certainly be put to the test in the Mile High City on Thursday against an Avalanche team whose 102 points are fifth most in the NHL and whose home record is an imposing 25-11-3.
To make matters more difficult for the Rangers is that their top defenseman--and arguably their team MVP this season--Ryan McDonagh suffered an undisclosed injury in the final minute of the win over the Canucks after being run hard into the glass by Alex Burrows. McDonagh left the arena with his arm in a sling, but the team did not provide any medical updates on his condition during Wednesday's off-day. It is likely head coach Alain Vigneault will provide an update following the morning skate on Thursday.
With McDonagh missing from the lineup, Marc Staal would assume his spot alongside Dan Girardi on the Rangers top defensive pairing. Since John Moore appears ready to return to the lineup after a six-game injury absence of his own, Moore would take McDonagh's spot in the lineup.
J.T. Miller was assigned to the Hartford Wolf Pack on Wednesday after being a healthy scratch the previous two matches. That means rugged forwards Daniel Carcillo--who scored his fourth goal on Tuesday--and Derek Dorsett--who is 1-1-2 in his last four games--will both remain in the lineup, at least for a little while, as Chris Kreider remains out indefinitely following surgery on his injured hand.
It will be interesting to see if Marty St. Louis starts to break out offensively after finally scoring his first goal with the Blueshirts--a clutch shorthanded tally at that--during Tuesday's victory in Vancouver. The Rangers now have three shorthanded goals in their past two games, and they added a power play goal by Benoit Pouliot, as well, Tuesday. Winning the special teams battle night-in night-out is extremely important this time of the year, and will be even more so once the playoffs start in another couple of weeks. After scoring just one power play in goal in an eight-game span, the Rangers have netted power play goals in back-to-back games entering play Thursday. On the other side their penalty killing unit has surrendered just three goals in the past 16 contests, and has ten shorthanded goals on the season.
The Rangers, who own the league's sixth-best penalty kill, will be challenged by an Avalanche power play that is ranked sixth in the NHL, converting at 20.4 percent. In fact the Rangers will be under the gun to try and slow down Colorado's potent offense all night long Thursday, as the Avs enter play the fifth-highest scoring team in the entire NHL. However the Rangers will catch a break in that Matt Duchene, Colorado's leading scorer with 70 points in 71 games--15th overall in the league--is out injured. Even without Duchene in the lineup, Colorado still will boast a group that includes four 20-goal scorers this season-Gabriel Landeskog and Ryan O'Reilly each have 26, 18 year-old rookie Nathan Mackinnnon has 23, and Paul Stastny has 21.
Along with a very potent offense, the Avs also feature one of the league's top goalies in 25 year-old Semyon Varlamov, who leads the league with 38 wins and ranks fifth with a .925 save percentage.
Colorado is coming off a 3-2 overtime victory over the Blue Jackets on Tuesday, and they enter play on a four-game winning streak--with three of those games being decided either in overtime or by the shootout. This season the Avs, under first year head coach Patrick Roy, have won 13 of 19 overtime/shootout games.