The New York Rangers have been through sort of a roller coaster ride over the past eight days as they look to clinch themselves an Eastern Conference playoff spot. They lost two straight days in two different, yet equally devastating ways (the 1-0 shutout at the hands of Jhonas Enroth and the Sabres; the 6-2 whitewashing from the Islanders). They came back from that with two straight wins in two nights against two of the top three teams in the conference, including the stunning 5-3 comeback victory over the Bruins. Then, they learned that star forward Ryan Callahan would be out indefinitely with a broken ankle. Their lead over ninth-place Carolina went as low as one point and as high as four points in between.
Tonight, they'll look to increase their now two-point lead over the Hurricanes against Carolina's Southeast Division rivals, the Atlanta Thrashers. For the Rangers, a victory puts them in a position where they only need a point in their final game on Saturday against New Jersey, or a Carolina loss of any kind in one of their final two games to clinch a post-season berth. A loss, needless to say, puts New York in a very difficult predicament.
Without Ryan Callahan, the Rangers will need to depend more on guys like Marian Gaborik, Brandon Dubinsky and more ancillary contributors like Ruslan Fedotenko and Vinny Prospal to get goals. It'll be hard to replace the toughness and intangibles the Callahan brings to every game, but it isn't the end of the world for the Blueshirts that he's gone. That said, if they lose, you might start to see dark clouds develop over Madison Square Garden.
Meanwhile, the Thrashers were eliminated a little while ago, and don't have much to play for, but they are still an intriguing team to watch. They come off a 6-3 loss to Nashville on Tuesday, and have gone 4-6-0 in their last 10. They're led in scoring by captain Andrew Ladd, with 27 goals and 56 points. Dustin Byfuglien and Tobias Enstrom headline a solid young defense core, with 53 and 51 points respectively. After Chris Mason got pulled after giving up four on Tuesday, expect Atlanta to return to their #1 goaltender in Ondrej Pavelec. Henrik Lundqvist is expected to start for the Rangers.
I'll be keeping you posted on the goings on this evening, so stay tuned right here. For a New York state of mind on tonight's game, check out Blueshirt Banter, and for the Atlanta view on things, enjoy Bird Watchers Anonymous.