It's pointless to point out this is a must-win game for the Rangers. It's been that way for a while now. The Panthers got walloped by the Devils, 7-2, so the Rangers can break the sixth-place tie at 70 points. The fifth-place Canadiens are hosting San Jose, which rarely loses and the eighth-place Sabres are at the Islanders, who rarely win.
John Tortorella's lines for tonight as he coaches his third game for the Rangers:
Markus Naslund-Scott Gomez-Nikolai Zherdev
Brandon Dubinsky-Chris Drury-Ryan Callahan
Nigel Dawes-Lauri Korpikoski-Petr Prucha
Fredrik Sjostrom-Blair Betts-Colton Orr
Henrik Lundqvist will make his 11th straight start, extending his season-high, and Mark Bell, Aaron Voros and Erik Reitz will be the healthy scratches.
The Rangers have not beaten Colorado at MSG since Nov. 20, 2001. I remember covering Glen Sather's first game as Rangers coach, an OT loss to the Avalanche (goal by future Ranger Greg de Vries), one of the crazier day in Rangers history. Sather pops onto the ice to conduct practice to widespread gasps, Mark Messier says in the locker room Slats had discussed the job with him prior to giving it to Bryan Trottier and then MSG boss Jim Dolan challenges the media to say what they really think of the Rangers. At the time, I had been on the beat all of three weeks.
Good pre-game chat with Brandon Dubinsky earlier this afternoon. Dubi had adjusted well to playing the wing and Torts seems inclined to keep him there for the time being in order to get Dubinsky playing among the top six forwards, rather than centering a third line.
"I haven't talked to him too much about where I'm playing," Dubinsky said. "Things are gong pretty well. I don't mnind wing at all. I miss taking faceoffs, otherwise I don't mind."
Obviously, the main thing to Dubinsky is being counted among the team's better players, which equates to more ice time under Tortorella.
"It's as important as anything. I like the role he's put me in. I've got to score, I've got to help create scoring opportunities."
Dubinsky has gone 14 games without a goal. Captain Chris Drury has gone a career-high 17.
Updates once the puck drops.
PRE-GAME UPDATE: Forgot to mention - Mike Hasenfratz and Dean Morton, the referee combination that brought you that ridiculous game January game in Chicago (11 power plays for Chicago, five five-on-threes) are working tonight's game. Of course, the Rangers did win that night so maybe this is good luck for the team.
UPDATE, 1:08 First period: Two goals on three shots to start the game isn't too bad. First Ryan Callahan completes a 2-on-1 with Brandon Dubinsky against Colorado D Brett Clark. Then, Lauri Korpikoski backhands a puck from behind the 'Lanche net to Nikolai Zherdev at the left post. Zherdev's backhander goes through the crease and in off Colorado D Ruslan Salei. They need to keep attacking and not give this back quickly.
UPDATE, 5:21 First period: I know Colorado's no good. But it's something more tonight. They don't want to play. The Rangers are beating them to every puck.
UPDATE, 13:24 First period: Before the game, Tortorella was saying he was going to give Prucha a whack - every opportunity to show he belongs in the lineup. But Tortorella said he needed Prucha to finish, to score some goals.
Prucha to new boss: OK, Torts, whatever you want.
Prucha getting the type of goal he used to thrive on, beating D Brett Clark to the puck in the crease and knocking in Lauri Korpikoski's pass.
UPDATE, 15:02 First period: First shot on Andrew Raycroft goes the same way as three of the nine shots against Peter Budaj. Scott Gomez, at the left post, tips in Marc Staal's one-timer off a pass from Nikolai Zherdev. This ties the Rangers season-high for goals in a period.
AFTER FIRST PERIOD: As just noticed, that's the most the Rangers have scored in a period since they had four in the first period at Philadelphia on Oct. 11. Rangers led that game, too, 4-0, after 20 minutes then held on for a 4-3 win. Don't see that happening tonight. The Avalanche are a disinterested bunch. Rangers will hold on for this one. You read it here first.
UPDATE, 4:56 Second period: Chris Drury breaks his long goal drought and on the five-on-three power play no less, which Tortorella called a killer in the 2-1 loss to the Panthers. Drury's streak, as noted above, was a career-high 17 games.
UPDATE, 13:05 Second period: Ryan Smyth breakaway makes it 5-1. Rangers Milan Hejduk and John-Michael Liles get the assists but it really should have gone to Dmitri Kalinin. The Rangers defenseman completely whiffed on the puck in the neutral zone, allowing Smyth to go free as he poked the puck up ice.
AFTER SECOND PERIOD: This is definitely what Dr. Tortorella ordered. I know there's 20 minutes left to play but let's just take a leap of faith and assume the Rangers will win a laugher. Even against the West's worst, this has to be a huge confidence boost to a team that, even though a change of coaches, was still squeezing the stick around the net. Sudden thought: maybe Jim Schoenfeld giving them great perspective on hwo it looks from the puck's point of view was a genius move. And I'm not trying to be snarky there. Yes, the 'Lanche are brutally bad tonight. But the Rangers are shooting from good angles at proper distances.
FINAL: RANGERS 6, AVALANCHE 1: Some local flavor: After Henrik Lundqvist got the first star, he flung his stick (gently) into the crowd to 11-year Avery Zaretsky of River Vale. "I'm probably going to keep it in my room," said Zaretsky, wearing a No. 30 Lundqvist jersey.
- John Tortorella, asked if this game was a milestone for him, deflected the conversation away from him.
"This isn't about me. I'm excited to be here. It's a privilege to coach for this organization, an Original Six team. But this is not about me. This is about a hockey team trying to find it's way that's been through a little bit of an ordeal the last few weeks. We're trying to clear our heads. It's about a team trying to get into the playoffs. It's not about me."