With several key players sidelined with injuries, the New York Rangers knew they would need excellent play from goaltender Henrik Lundqvist to make a playoff push. He certainly has delivered that.
Lundqvist looks to remain perfect in his career against the Boston Bruins when the teams meet Saturday night at Madison Square Garden.
The Rangers (34-28-9) were close to playing themselves out of playoff contention with a three-game losing streak from Feb. 22-27, but Lundqvist has helped them to points in seven of their last eight games, posting a record of 4-1-3. Backup Stephen Valiquette, playing in place of the injured Kevin Weekes, was in net for a 3-2 shootout victory over St. Louis on March 3.
The surge has moved New York into a ninth-place tie with Toronto in the Eastern Conference, one point behind Carolina and the Islanders for the final postseason spot.
"We have to stay the course," Rangers coach Tom Renney said. "One thing we do not want to do is get frustrated. Bottom line is we have to keep working here and start getting two points instead of one."
Although the Rangers have lost their last two games, Lundqvist could hardly be blamed for either. In Tuesday's 3-2 home loss to Ottawa, the winning goal deflected off defenseman Marek Malik, hit the post and went in midway through the third period.
Lundqvist, starting for the 25th time in 26 games, was sharp again in Friday's 2-1 overtime loss at Atlanta, making 20 saves before surrendering the winning goal with his team short-handed.
"That's a game we should win," Lundqvist said. "Still a good point. We had our chance to get two."
Lundqvist has allowed two goals or fewer through regulation in five of his last six starts, posting a 1.77 goals-against average during that span.
Lundqvist also won't mind seeing the Bruins (34-31-5) again. He has stopped 53 of 55 shots in two wins against them this season, and is 5-0-0 with a 1.58 GAA in his career versus Boston.
Besides Weekes, the Rangers also are without forwards Brendan Shanahan and Marcel Hossa, defensemen Karel Rachunek and Fedor Tyutin. Shanahan - the team leader with 28 goals despite missing 13 games with a concussion - could return next week.
Boston also is part of the playoff race in the East, sitting five points behind the eighth spot with 12 games remaining.
The Bruins followed Sunday's 6-3 victory at Detroit by overcoming a three-goal deficit Thursday for a 4-3 shootout victory over Washington.
Patrice Bergeron and Phil Kessel scored in the shootout and Marc Savard had three assists for Boston, which has nine goals in its last two games after scoring two in its previous three.
"Any comeback win is huge for the team's confidence," Savard said on the team's official Web site. "I've always said the character in this room is strong and we proved it again, tonight."
Savard, a former Ranger, has a career-high 70 assists this season, six coming in his last two games.
Bruins goalie Tim Thomas is 0-3-2 with a 3.78 GAA in five career starts against New York.
New York has won six straight against the Bruins since a 3-1 road loss on March 4, 2004.