Around the East: Rangers need to build off big win
Marc Staal made sure to temper the high he and the Rangers felt after beating Pittsburgh on Sunday by taking a realistic stance.
"It's good to get back in the win column," Staal told NHL.com following the Rangers' 5-3 come-from-behind win. "We'll see where it goes from here."
Where it goes is entirely up to the Rangers, who are out of excuses. Save for Chris Drury, who had knee surgery last week, the Rangers are healthy and in the middle of a fight to the finish line in the Eastern Conference.
If they learned anything from last season, it's not to let this thing go down to the final weekend of the season because a crapshoot is the last thing the Rangers want or need.
They're currently in seventh place in the Eastern Conference, four points ahead of the ninth-place Atlanta Thrashers, who start a three-game road trip Thursday in Phoenix. The standings are on everyone's mind.
"Now, once you get down to 20-25 games left, you obviously pay a little bit more attention to them," Staal said. "It's hard not to when it's tight like this every year. Since I've been here it's been so tight. You know what the big games are, but now every point is huge, they all count. It's that time of the year again."
That's why the win Sunday was so big. Not only did it snap an 0-5-1 slide, but it gave the Rangers confidence they still can score goals. They had only 6 goals in their previous 4 games and averaged only 2 per game during the 6-game winless streak.
"We kept it simple," goalie Henrik Lundqvist said. "That helped us score and gave us a lot of energy. We created chances and scored goals. To battle back is a good feeling."
To win is a good feeling. The Rangers have to find a way to keep it. They're all out of excuses.
"We were in the games [during the 0-5-1 slide], we just weren't closing them out to finish teams off," Staal said. "We were still confident that we belonged up there [in the playoff chase]. Now we have to stay up there."
It's time to go around the conference for an in-depth look at the playoff races. The teams are listed in order of where they currently stand:
Kris Versteeg should be a welcome addition to an already loaded Flyers lineup. He'll likely assume a similar role to the one he had in Chicago last season. He could play on a line with Mike Richards and James van Riemsdyk, or Claude Giroux and Jeff Carter. Meanwhile, the Flyers are in Tampa to face the team that has been their worst enemy this season. The Lightning are looking to sweep the season series from Philadelphia, and a regulation-time win would put them within just two points of first place in the conference. Philly is on the road all week, with games following in Florida, North Carolina and New York City.
The Lightning have been hot and cold since the All-Star break. They have three wins, but just one in regulation, as well as two regulation losses. They've got five games left on their 12-game homestand, but so far they're 5-2-0. They're dealing with a long-term injury to power forward Ryan Malone, who is out 6-8 weeks with a torn abdominal muscle. Rookie Johan Harju is getting his shot in Malone's stead, but coach Guy Boucher likes to play seven defensemen and likely will continue to do so quite often.
They went 0-for-2 against the Red Wings over the weekend and are hanging onto first place in the Northeast Division by a thin margin. The Bruins were toasted twice by Detroit and have lost three of their last four. It makes you wonder what GM Peter Chiarelli has planned as the trade deadline approaches. There's talk of the Bruins needing a defenseman and Tomas Kaberle's name has come up, but with Marc Savard out of the lineup for rest of the season and playoffs, Chiarelli could be looking for offense instead. They host Toronto on Tuesday before starting a six-game road trip that will go through the Feb. 28 trade deadline.
Coach Dan Bylsma admits that players coming up from the AHL will be carried by adrenaline for a few days and play above and beyond their expected level. Eventually, however, he said they become who they are, and that's a concern for the Penguins right now because Evgeni Malkin isn't coming back this season and no one can be certain that Sidney Crosby will, either. Chris Kunitz and Arron Asham are banged up and Matt Cooke still has two games left on his suspension. The Penguins have to rely on some AHL players for a while, and with the adrenaline all worn off we'll see if some of these minor leaguers can turn into bona fide NHL players.
The Canadiens host Buffalo on Tuesday before heading west for their most anticipated road trip of the season. They play in Edmonton on Thursday and then head to Calgary to experience some of the build-up and hype leading into the 2011 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic on Sunday at McMahon Stadium against the host Flames. Forward Michael Cammalleri (separated left shoulder) hopes to be able to play in the outdoor game in Calgary. He started skating with his teammates Monday. Hal Gill is skating on his own but is considered day to day with an upper-body injury.
A week after saying Alex Ovechkin appears more energetic and fresher on the ice in part because he's keeping his shifts shorter, the Capitals superstar averaged 67 seconds per shift in Monday's 3-2 loss to Phoenix. He had several shifts that went over the 90-second mark, though they came with him on the point during the power play. He should be playing shifts that last in the neighborhood of 50-55 seconds. Ovechkin only has 2 goals in the last eight games. Mike Green was scratched Monday due to inner-ear trauma, likely a result of getting hit in the right ear by a slap shot in the Super Bowl Sunday win against Pittsburgh.
Rangers coach John Tortorella has liked Marian Gaborik's game of late and feels it's just a matter of time before the forward, who turned 29 on Monday, starts putting up some numbers. Time is running short on Gaborik and he only has 16 goals and 37 points in 44 games this season. Gaborik has just 1 goal since ripping up the Maple Leafs for 4 on Jan. 19, but he does have 4 assists in the past three games. Tortorella wants Gaborik to stop worrying about scoring because that's when he will start to score. He believes he saw Gaborik play with less pressure in a 5-3 win Sunday against Pittsburgh.
Sunday's 3-2 win against Atlanta was huge for the Hurricanes. It gave them sole possession of eighth place in the conference and furthered their belief that they are a playoff team. It also snapped a three-game winless streak (0-1-2). The Hurricanes know they're lucky that despite picking up just two points over that three-game slide that they remained in step with the Thrashers. They'll look to finish their five-game road trip with a win in New Jersey on Thursday before going home for four in a row at RBC Center. Cam Ward has started 16 straight games and doesn't figure to get a rest any time soon.
If GM Rick Dudley believes the Thrashers are good enough to make the playoffs he will make a trade before the Feb. 28 deadline. The problem is the Thrashers are not giving him a reason to believe lately. They are 3-8-4 in their last 15 games. Atlanta outshot Carolina 43-17 and still lost. Talk about a sign that the breaks just aren't going your way. And to make matters worse, rookie forward Alexander Burmistrov missed his first game of the season Sunday with a cracked bone in his foot. There's no timetable for his return.
The Sabres are 11-4-2 in their last 17 games and it has gotten them within four points of eighth in the conference. However, they're still trying to make up for their dreadful start -- they were 3-9-2 just 14 games into the season. Ryan Miller gave up seven goals on 26 shots in a 7-6 overtime loss to the Islanders on Sunday. It was by far his worst game of the season and a disgusted Miller was not happy with the line of questioning from one of the local reporters after the game. Miller has started 31 straight games, but there's reason to believe that streak will end either Tuesday in Montreal or Wednesday against Toronto.
Win one, lose two, win one … the Panthers are not giving GM Dale Tallon enough reason to believe that they are a playoff team. They need to turn up the heat in the next week or Tallon is going to start to take some of the phone calls he makes and receives more seriously. Florida has started its current five-game homestand with a 1-1-1 record. It's not going to get easier as they close it with Philadelphia on Wednesday and Detroit on Friday. Then it's up to Tampa to start a four-game road trip. It's now or never for the Panthers.
Opinions on the subject may vary, but GM Brian Burke insists the Maple Leafs are not throwing in the towel on the 2010-11 season. Burke has done some dealing over the past week that proves he's thinking about the future while not totally sacrificing the present even if most Leafs fans are just about ready to do that. In separate deals he gave up Francois Beauchemin and Kris Versteeg but got back Joffrey Lupul, prospect Jake Gardiner, and first- and third-round picks in the 2011 Entry Draft. Burke would like to pick up another NHL player before the deadline so that third-round pick reportedly is in play.
Zach Parise told NHL.com in a text message last week that he's making progress in his rehabilitation from knee surgery but he has not started skating yet. The (Bergen) Record reported Monday that Parise won't be able to skate until March at the earliest. He still has to get clearance from Dr. Anthony Miniaci at the Cleveland Clinic, but his next visit with him won't be until March 2. If he plays again at all this season it likely won't be until April, and by that point the Devils could be completely out of the race or making headlines for a historic comeback. They are 12-1-2 in their last 15 games, but still trail the eighth-place Hurricanes by 14 points.
Well, no one can accuse the Islanders of being boring. They followed their well-publicized donnybrook with the Penguins last Friday with a come-from-behind 7-6 overtime win in Buffalo on Saturday. Michael Grabner, with 8 goals, including a hat trick and 2 game-winning goals, was named the NHL's First Star of the Week. He has 9 goals in his last five games. The Islanders have won three in a row.