By Brian Monzo
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The Detroit Red Wings rarely come to NYC for a battle with the Rangers. It’s not often enough. The two Original Six teams will battle tonight at the Garden in what is now a close to must-win for the Rangers now that the Pittsburgh Penguins seem to never lose hockey games. The Penguins trail the Rangers by only a point for the lead in the Atlantic Division and in the Eastern Conference.
The Penguins dominated the Jets last night 8-4, with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin combining for nine points. That is not a typo. They combined for nine points. Scary.
The Red Wings will be no walk in the park for the Blueshirts. Granted Nicklas Lidstrom and Jimmy Howard are both out, the Red Wings still have players like Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen.
While the Wings are 28-5-2 at home, they are 16-20-2 away from Detroit. The Rangers will certainly need to bring their A game, despite the Wings struggling road record.
The most important part of this game will be the Rangers ability to forecheck. The Red Wings are a puck possession team. What does that mean? That means the Red Wings will hold onto the puck for most of the game. The prescription to beating a team that can hold on the puck is constant forecheck and winning the battles on the boards. A week ago, I would have been nervous about this, but the Rangers have found their game in their last two.
Despite their loss to the Avalanche, they played a better game and if not for Av’s goalie Semyon Varlemov, the Rangers may have won that game by four goals. For 90% of Monday’s game against the Devils, the Rangers were the better team, and a 4-2 victory was rewarded.
A game like this, and the necessary style of play will call for a big game out of players like Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky, Brian Boyle and Brandon Prust. If these players use their size and ability to crunch the play along the boards and make life hell for the Red Wings forwards, the Rangers will certainly have a good shot of winning the game. If not, they will have absolutely no shot.
Henrik Lundqvist is due for a big game. He has been playing OK, but certainly not to the level everyone has come to expect. In 53 games, Lundqvist has 33 wins and eight shutouts. But his recent form is certainly not of his normal dominance.
I think the resolve for this will be getting Lundqvist a lot of games as the season winds down. He has gotten plenty of rest throughout the season, and now with 10 games left, Lundqvist needs to start at least nine of them. He has shown a knack of playing better the more action he gets. Is there a better time than now to get more time? They are in a race now to win the division and the conference and they need to get the best play possible from their top player.
If their grinders get the job, their top offensive players and their top line of Brad Richards, Marian Gaborik and Carl Hagelin should be able to provide enough punch to pull out the two points.
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