The New York Rangers have dug themselves a considerable hole in their quest to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference, and management has hinted that a sell-off is coming at the trade deadline. But they’ve proven on a recent road trip that despite the off-ice news, the Blueshirts are still showing some fight on the rink.
The Rangers head into Tuesday night’s road game versus the Minnesota Wild after an impressive come-from-behind win in playoff-bound Winnipeg on Sunday, and with a newfound confidence in the young players that are getting an opportunity to prove themselves in the New York lineup.
“I love the way they’re playing. Young guys are coming up here confident, skating really well, crisp passing … we need that,” said Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who is the mainstay in goal for now, as regular backup Ondrej Pavelec battles an injury. “Guys getting more minutes and more opportunity to prove themselves, and we need them to step up. It’s great to see the young kids come in here and play the way we know they can do it.”
One of those young guys is a well-known name in Minnesota. Rookie defenseman Neal Pionk was a key cog in Minnesota Duluth’s run to the NCAA title game last season, and is expected to play his third NHL game in his home state on Tuesday. His energy has given the Rangers a boost, and they’re feeling better about themselves after winning two in a row.
“When you win everything looks brighter. But at the end of the day what we’re doing with our guys is keeping them in hockey mode,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. “We’re working with them individually and as a team on certain areas where they need to get better, and that’s what we’re doing moving forward.”
The Wild have gone 1-0-1 so far in the midst of the five-game home stand that they know is going to be crucial to their playoff chances. The win was a decisive 3-0 blanking of Chicago in which goalie Devan Dubnyk had a season-high 44 saves and was named the NHL’s third star of the week. Still, the Minnesota coach saw plenty of room for improvement, even after beating the Blackhawks.
“We came out with a lot of energy. Then like we always do you do a lead and then we get cute. We tried to defend it instead of trying to go after it. That’s why our third-period goals against is what it is,” Bruce Boudreau said. “I was saying to somebody today if you look at our first two periods, the third period was average. I mean, average between those two goals against in the first and second, we have the best defensive record in the league by 20 goals. We seem to let our foot off the gas and try to defend that way. We’re going to have to push I forward a little bit more.”
The Wild are also set to give a familiar name his first taste of the NHL as former University of Minnesota grinder Nick Seeler will make his big league debut versus the Rangers.
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