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Two surging teams (and rivals) clash at MSG

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

NEW YORK — The Blue Jackets’ quest for a 10th straight win goes through not only the best team in the Eastern Conference tonight, but a team that is currently the top team in the National Hockey League.

Alain Vigneault’s New York Rangers have clinched a playoff spot, they have clinched the Metropolitan Division and now, they’re seeking their first Presidents’ Trophy in 21 years. Last year’s Stanley Cup Final representatives from the East, the Rangers are red-hot and hold a 18-5-2 record in their last 25 games.

They play with speed, are always looking to attack and these Rangers want to make opponents uncomfortable with their pace right off the hop. It’s been said time and again, but the Blue Jackets have to be ready from the opening face-off tonight and that focus has to continue throughout the full 60 minutes.

“If you’re just coming in thinking ‘we’re doing okay, we’re playing pretty well’ and we aren’t focused or ready, this team…they just proved it the other night against a good Devils team (a 6-1 win),” said Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards. “How we manage the puck is probably the biggest thing. They have a lot of speed over there, and if we’re turning pucks over, it’ll put the defensemen in a tough position.

“This isn’t a team you want to be in foot races against.”

Richards said the Blue Jackets always have some “emotional attachment” to games against the Rangers and for a variety of reasons. There are several former players on both sides, then you have a player in Cam Atkinson who was born and raised not far from New York City in Greenwich, Conn.

Then there’s the thrill of playing in a legendary building like Madison Square Garden, and also facing an opponent that demands you be at your best.

“We’ve certainly got some confidence right now,” said Brandon Dubinsky, one of four former Rangers on the Blue Jackets’ current roster. “We believe in our system and we believe in each other right now, and we have to carry that over. We have to have fun with this, have fun with what’s left of our season and it starts tonight with three big periods in a great building here at MSG and a great atmosphere, as usual.”

One of the former Rangers, Fedor Tyutin, was not on the ice for today’s morning skate at MSG. Justin Falk took rushes with Dalton Prout in his place, and Richards said Tyutin’s availability will be a game time decision this evening.

Asked if Tyutin is injured or sick, Richards said “he’s not sick.” So take from that what you will.

Henrik Lundqvist, one of the game’s elite goaltenders and the Rangers’ best player, will be in goal tonight. He’s slated to face Sergei Bobrovsky for Columbus, who has been terrific on this nine-game winning streak for the Blue Jackets and has proven — once again — that he’s the backbone for this group.

Bobrovsky has won 12 of his last 13 starts (12-1-0) and Lundqvist has won three of four games since returning from a vascular injury in his neck, setting the stage for a terrific goaltending matchup tonight between two surging teams.

“Our goaltending has given us a chance every night,” Dubinsky said. “We’re fighting hard and showing the type of character that we have, and we’re obviously getting healthy. You start looking at our lineup…these guys are all your friends and you never want to see anyone scratched or healthy scratched, but we actually have extra bodies — it’s something we haven’t really had all year.

“You’re starting to see a healthier team and it’s certainly helped us out.”

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