By Steve Silverman
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This is a significant weekend for the Rangers, with games against the Boston Bruins and the Vancouver Canucks.
Both games have meaning for the both the near and long-term.
Any game against the Bruins is a test against one of the best Eastern Conference teams and is a measuring stick for head coach Alain Vigneault’s team.
The Rangers didn’t need a win in in this game, but they had to match the Bruins hit for hit and show they could skate and play with Boston. That did not happen in last year’s playoff series when the Rangers were outplayed badly and lost in five games.
The Rangers passed the first part of the test. While they lost the game by a 3-2 margin, they answered the Bruins throughout the game.
Boston came out storming and hit the Rangers with a number of diagonal passes in the offensive zone that led to a number of scoring opportunities. Brad Marchand cashed in and gave the Bruins a 1-0 lead after taking a perfect pass from Zdeno Chara.
At that point, the Bruins could have rolled to a big lead, but the Rangers answered back with two quick goals. The first was a magnificent effort by Rick Nash, who fought off checks from Chara and Patrice Bergeron and then beat Tuukka Rask through sheer will.
The Rangers maintained that lead through the end of the second period, but Boston tied the game on a Patrice Bergeron goal early in the third period. The game remained on even terms until later in the third period, when David Krejci made a perfect pass to a wide-open Chara, who blasted the puck by Henrik Lundqvist.
They lost the first part of the battle, but the effort was solid.
They can turn the weekend into a standoff if they can come up with a victory at home tomorrow afternoon against the Vancouver Canucks.
The Canucks are not just a skilled Western Conference team. They bring a lot of psychological baggage with them in the presence of head coach John Tortorella. The former Rangers coach already has a 1-0 record against his old team since the Canucks beat the Rangers in Vancouver during their season-opening road trip.
Now, it must be the Rangers’ turn to hold serve on home ice. When Tortorella was fired last year, he had basically lost faith in his team. He didn’t think they had the skill to beat teams like Boston or Pittsburgh and it showed in his demeanor and words.
The Rangers need to put that right back in Tortorella’s face.
Players like Ryan McDonagh, Rick Nash, Ryan Callahan have too much character to allow Tortorella to leave Madison Square Garden with a smirk, a smile and a second win over the Rangers.
This is a game that they must win.
Vigneault knows that the game means more than two points in the standings. The Rangers want to be a playoff team, but more than that, they want to be a team that has the confidence it can win big games.
The Rangers played hard and well against the Bruins, but they did not get the two points. They can’t settle for that same scenario against the Canucks.
This is as much of a must-win game as a team can have in late November.