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It's home, sweet home for Rangers this week

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers
By Dan David,

Just under two years ago, on April 29, 2007, the New York Rangers had their backs to the wall as they returned to Madison Square Garden for the third and fourth games of the Eastern Conference semifinal playoff series.

Trailing the Buffalo Sabres 2-0 after a pair of losses up at HSBC Arena, the Blueshirts faced the rather dire prospect of needing at least one win at home to keep their season going. They would have to get it against a Sabres team that had finished the 2006-07 regular season with the NHL’s best record and had already outscored them 8-4 in the series’ first two games in Buffalo.

The passionate, fired-up crowds at MSG continue to be one of the team's greatest assets whenever the Blueshirts have really needed to pick up two points.
Coming home to MSG, however, meant the world to the Rangers that late April day. Defying the odds, they went on to win Game 3 on a double-overtime goal from defenseman Michal Rozsival and then beat the Sabres again in Game 4, another 2-1 win, to push the series back to Buffalo, where they came within 7.7 seconds of winning Game 5.

Fans lucky enough to have attended either one of those two 2007 playoff games against the Sabres already know about the role that home ice played at the time. The atmosphere at MSG was utterly electric, and the noise level was deafening throughout those two games as the crowd helped propel the team back into the series.

Playing at home in thos 2007 playoffs vs. the Sabres was such a lift that what had happened to the Rangers in Games 1 and 2 in Buffalo went out the window the minute they hit the Garden ice.  New York’s hockey fans helped turn the building into a house of horrors for the visiting Sabres.

This week, the Garden crowd gets another chance to work its magic, as the Blueshirts come home for two games that might clinch a 2009 Eastern Conference playoff berth by Thursday if they can claim all four points on the table. Although the Rangers are coming off two disappointing road losses, the Garden will be the X Factor, just as it has been throughout the current season and ever since NHL hockey returned from its lockout season in 2005.

One of the most impressive Rangers statistics over the past four seasons is this: When the Blueshirts come home from the road having lost consecutive games, they are a remarkable 18-6-2 playing in front of The Garden Faithful.

Rangers captain Chris Drury  has experienced a full-blast MSG both as a member of the home team and as an opposing player when he played for Buffalo in that remarkable 2007 playoff series.

“When the Garden is loud and it's rocking, it can really pump up the team, but it also works the other way for us. For the opponent, it makes it a really tough place to play,” Drury said after practice on Monday. “We certainly need the fans to be at their loudest tomorrow.”

The Garden rebound effect of the past four seasons has been strongest this year, when the team is 5-1-1 heading back to MSG after any number of consecutive losses.

As the Rangers prepare for two all-important home games this week, here is a look back at this season’s five biggest 2008-09 home-ice advantage games in terms of picking up crucial points:

Nov. 24 vs. Phoenix:
Through their first 21 games of the 2008-09 season, the Rangers were a stellar 14-5-2. On Nov. 19 at MSG, however, they suffered a disappointing 6-3 loss to the Vancouver Canucks. Three days later brought another, rough 4-1 loss in Ottawa. Coming back to The Garden, the Rangers knew they had to change their momentum, and they did it in a big way. After giving up an early first-period goal that only partially deflated the crowd, the Blueshirts erupted for four unanswered goals, including an empty-netter, to skate off with a 4-1 win.

Jan. 10 vs. Ottawa:
A home loss to Montreal on Jan. 7 was followed by an overtime defeat in Buffalo two nights later. The Rangers came home to face the Senators in the second of back-to-back games and blanked their guests 2-0 behind 33 saves from Henrik Lundqvist. Brandon Dubinsky’s late first-period goal was all the Rangers needed to secure the win.

Feb. 11 vs. Washington:
Yet another night when the home crowd made a huge difference, as the Rangers beat the Caps 5-4 in an overtime shootout. The victory snapped an 0-4-1 stretch for the Rangers, coming right after two straight regulation losses at Dallas and New Jersey.

Feb. 18 vs. Islanders:
One week after regaining their momentum with their shootout win over Washington, the Rangers pumped themselves up again at home by beating the Isles 3-1 to snap a three-game slide that included a disappointing 2-1 loss two nights earlier in St. Louis.

March 30 vs. New Jersey:
Just last week, the Rangers fed off the home crowd to help Lundqvist earn his third shutout of the season in a 3-0 win over New Jersey. This uplifting win came after a loss two days earlier in Pittsburgh and an overtime loss four nights earlier at Atlanta.
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