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Rangers Using Final Two Weeks As Playoff Primer

by Matt Calamia @MattCalamia /

While the playoffs are about two weeks away, the Rangers know they must use these final five games of the regular season to fine tune their game, find chemistry up front and get healthy before the chase for the Stanley Cup begins next month.

"We talked about that this morning of playing the right way into the playoffs. We obviously clinched but it wasn't our best game, and we know that. Moving forward to these last [five], we want to get some momentum."

It's a balancing act for the Rangers, who after locking up playoff spot with their overtime loss to the Sharks Thursday night, could finish no worse than the top wild card spot in the Eastern Conference with a Bruins loss tonight.

New York wants to find its game, but at this time of the year, players are battling through injury and maybe some time off could play dividends down the road.

"It's kind of a Catch-22," Nash said. "A lot of guys are playing with some injuries. You want to get guys healthy, you want to make sure everyone is feeling good for the playoffs. But at the same time, you want to make sure your game is good and the team game is good coming in to playoffs. Luckily we leave that up to AV to make those decisions."

New York is coming off a 1-1-1 road trip through California and are set to play three of their final five games at The Garden, where they've dropped their last seven games (0-5-2). No matter the seed or the opponent, teams don't have success in the playoffs if they do not have success at home.

"We need to buckle down more at home. It's got to be a challenge for other teams to come in and steal points or what not," defenseman Brendan Smith said Thursday. "Apparently for a while it's gone the other way. We're going to change it up here. Mark my words, the boys are really buckling down and making sure this is a tough place to come in to. We need our fans as well."

Henrik Lundqvist, who will get the start Friday against the Penguins, said one of the drawbacks to playing in New York is always getting an opponent's best effort.

"You also have to realize teams come in and they're going to put on their working boots and play their very best game to try and beat us," Lundqvist said. "Start tomorrow in the first period, have a good start and then start building. It's definitely a place where we want to feel good about ourselves. There's no better feeling than to win at home. We have to get that going tomorrow."

Coach Alain Vigneault said on Thursday that Lundqvist would play all but one of the final five games of the regular season as the netminder looks to continue to get into top form following a hip injury that cost him three weeks earlier this month.

"I think every day, you put everything you've got in practice and mentally you try to prepare for each game," Lundqvist said. "Each day it's easier and it gets closer to where you need to be, especially when you've been out for three weeks. I felt like last game felt a little bit better than the first one obviously the result was not something you're extremely happy with but you try to look at the good things and you try to work on that and you also look at the things that need to be a little bit better.

"I look forward to this week," he added. "I think we all feel it's getting close. That's exciting."

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