Saturday Morning Skate: Chance To Clinch Tonight
Back home and set to play their first game at Madison Square Garden since March 26th tonight when they host the Ottawa Senators, the Rangers held their morning skate at the MSG Training Center, and afterwards the big discussion was that a win this evening would earn the Blueshirts a "check" by their name in the standings.
In other words, a win tonight and the Rangers would officially clinch a berth in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"We control our own destiny right now, so we want to take care of that right away, tonight, clinch that playoff spot" alternate captain Marc Staal said after the morning skate. "We've done a good job of keeping our focus from game to game and playing well and racking up points, so now we're one away from clinching it, and we're aware of that, and want to get it done as soon as possible."
Last night's results within their own division and conference certainly played to the Rangers favor as Columbus and Washington both lost. The Rangers enter play Saturday with 91 points after grabbing five of eight possible points on their just-completed four-game road trip out west. They own a four point lead over the Flyers for second place in the Metropolitan Division, so while clinching a playoff berth is very important, victories and points in the standings continue to remain vital to the Blueshirts as they battle for home-ice advantage in the post-season, as well.
"It's our job to win games and get into the playoffs," stated Brad Richards. "It'd be kind of silly having this job and not keeping an eye on the scoreboard and understanding where you are each day. Tonight is one step if we can get that done, and we want to do it on our own, we don't want to back door it, and then take the next three games to try and get home ice."
Henrik Lundqvist starts again in goal for the Rangers, his 11th in the last 12 games. The rest of the Rangers lineup also remains intact from Thursday's 3-2 shootout defeat to the Avalanche, meaning Ryan McDonagh will miss his second straight game after being hurt last Tuesday in Vancouver. McDonagh did not take part in the morning skate on Saturday.
"Those are big shoes to fill, a lot of important minutes Mac plays," explained defenseman John Moore. "I thought we did a pretty good job picking up for his absence (on Thursday), but we need to be better, for sure."
In his quest to find the best fit on left wing alongside Richards and Marty St. Louis, head coach Alain Vigneault will try Brian Boyle in that spot tonight against Ottawa. Dominic Moore and Daniel Carcillo--who both logged minutes in that role Thursday--will both be on the fourth line again along with Derek Dorsett.
As for the historical difficulties of playing the first game back home after returning from a long road trip, Staal joked that it was "just a myth", though Vigneault admitted he had spoken with his team about it prior to the skate.
"The first game back from a long road trip is a little bit challenging," offered the head coach. "We've talked to our players about that, so hopefully we'll be ready tonight. However tonight we have the opportunity without the help of anybody to get a check mark by our name, so we've come a long way, fought our way back, and today is our first chance to get the check mark by our name and earn the right to challenge for the Stanley Cup."
The Rangers will be off until Tuesday when they open the final week of the regular season with a home game against the Carolina Hurricanes. That will be followed by a Garden matchup with the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday and a road contest in Montreal next Saturday. The Stanley Cup Playoffs begin the following week.