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Rangers face home-and-home test against Penguins

by Dan Rosen /

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Marian Gaborik spoke in a soft and quiet tone, but his message should resonate loud and clear as the New York Rangers head into a showdown Wednesday night against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

"We can't be spooked by them," Gaborik said quietly after practice Tuesday. "We can't give them too much respect."

Easier said than done, even with Sidney Crosby out of the lineup when the Rangers and Penguins begin a home-and-home at Madison Square Garden (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN). They also play Friday at Consol Energy Center (7 p.m. ET, NHLN-US), where newly acquired forward Ryane Clowe likely will make his Rangers' debut.

Though the Rangers' lineup may be slightly different because of trade deadline moves, they figure they can't be spooked or afraid of giving Pittsburgh too much respect provided they play the same way they did in the final 40 minutes of their 4-2 win over the Winnipeg Jets on Monday.

They were down 2-1 after the first period, but picked up momentum with a strong 5-on-3 penalty kill that led to a highlight-reel, game-tying shorthanded goal by captain Ryan Callahan. New York took over the game from there and used a solid forecheck to coast through the third period to their first win in three games and their second in six.

They outshot the Jets 28-17 in the final two periods.

"Once we got sparked there with [Callahan], I felt our transition was quicker and I thought we were really good going zone-to-zone in establishing a forecheck," Rangers coach John Tortorella said prior to the team acquiring Clowe. "We finally get a point shot through and we score a big goal on a rebound. That's something we're really trying to focus on. We don't have a big shooter, but just to gain some offense by getting shots to the net."

The Rangers are confident that bottling that performance and bringing it into the Garden on Wednesday makes defeating the Penguins a somewhat realistic goal -- even though they're 0-7-0 against Pittsburgh dating to early last season and have been outscored 12-3 in three games this season.

"I think they have confidence, it's just when something doesn't go right for them in a game we've lost a little bit of that quick resiliency," Tortorella said of his team. "Maybe this is a good lesson for us. They have to grab something to keep themselves aware that we're not dead yet here because they just scored. It's a matter of winning and losing for players for them to feel good about themselves. Hopefully this will help us take a step in the right direction."

If that sounds familiar, well, it is.

The Rangers have been in this position before, coming off a solid win and hoping to carry momentum into the next game to find consistency so they can go on a winning streak.

They haven't carried momentum or found any consistency, so they haven't won more than two in a row since a season-long four-game winning streak from Feb. 28-March 7. They're 5-7-1 in their past 13 games, which is why a team that was considered a preseason favorite to win the Stanley Cup is now in a fight for one of the final playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.

But here they are talking again about consistency and momentum with arguably the two biggest games of their season coming up, games that can both help the Rangers get a cushion in the standings and give them a gauge of how good they can be.

The difference now is that the stakes are higher than they have been at any other point this season. The Rangers have 13 games left to pick up momentum, to play with consistency, to win.

"We're a desperate team now," forward Rick Nash said. "We need wins. Momentum has to carry."

For that to happen, the forecheck and penalty kill have to be as good as they were Monday. The Rangers were 5-for-5 on the kill and got the shorthanded goal.

"We still can't be in the box that much, especially against them [the Penguins]," Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh said.

The Penguins entered their game Tuesday against the Buffalo Sabres with the third-best power play in the NHL (23.4 percent); Winnipeg was 26th at 13.4 percent.

Provided the Rangers can rectify the penalty situation, they likely will be able to take away some of the Penguins' even-strength scoring opportunities by being strong on the wall and as aggressive in pursuit of the puck as they were against the Jets.

"Our forechecking, I thought, was excellent," McDonagh said. "We were on pucks. I just recall [Brad Richards] making a dive to poke the puck to [Mats] Zuccarello. Those plays may wear down your energy if you're not scoring, but we were able to create and wear them down that way, which was good."

"We're a desperate team now. We need wins. Momentum has to carry."                    -- Rangers forward Rick Nash
Tortorella specifically pointed out the forechecking efforts of Richards, Gaborik and Zuccarello.

"They were around the puck and battled along the wall," Tortorella said. "They had some grind to their game, too, as far as their forecheck."

McDonagh said the forecheck has been an issue that has led to some of the Rangers' inconsistent play.

"We've been good at getting through and into the zone at times, but we're dumping the puck a lot and just not able to get it back or maintain pressure for a while," McDonagh said. "It was a difference for us for sure against Winnipeg. We wore them down and maybe even frustrated them a little bit, forcing them to throw long bomb passes that resulted in icings. They weren't able to connect the dots as much.

"Strong defensively, strong penalty killing and our forecheck have to be our three cornerstones. We had them all going [against Winnipeg], and that's why we won."

More of the same against the Penguins and the Rangers shouldn't have to worry about being spooked.


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