With 10 games left in the regular season, the New York Rangers have a lot to play for. Beyond finishing the year on a strong note -- so as to carry that momentum into the playoffs -- the Blueshirts are aiming to be the Eastern Conference's first seed. Finishing No. 1 in the conference would mean they'd have home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs; at Madison Square Garden this year, they are 25-9-2. Now is the time to play your best hockey.
Tuesday, they'll face the perennial Western Conference powerhouse, Detroit Red Wings in New York (NBCSN, 7:30 p.m. EST) and have a serious chance to end a string of bad games against them. The Wings have been decimated with injuries lately and have struggled as a result, but still present a big challenge for a Rangers team that has been up-and-down lately. Detroit has lost five in a row and is 2-6-1 in March. New York is coming off a well-played home win against the New Jersey Devils, but is 5-5-1 in March.
The Red Wings are missing seven players -- now including starting goalie Jimmy Howard with a groin injury -- from their lineup. Other current injured players include: Johan Franzen, Jonathan Ericsson, Jakub Kindl, Joey MacDonald, Darren Helm and Niklas Lidstrom. They're still an experienced and dangerous bunch and have wiped out the Rangers five straight games (and 12 of 13), though every game but one in the winning streak has been decided by one. New York is also one point ahead of the hard-charging Pittsburgh Penguins. Every game should be played with the desperation of a playoff game now.
Lately, coach John Tortorella has infused a little more offense into the lineup with Mats Zuccarello, and he's found a formidable first line with two of his big-money stars (Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards). The key is to get the secondary guys clicking, and against New Jersey, they did; none of the goals were scored by the first line. Artem Anisimov practiced Wednesday, but it's unclear whether he'll be back. His return only gives the Rangers more depth and one of their better two-way players. The Rangers will likely face Ty Conklin, who was recalled on an emergency basis with backup MacDonald also on the shelf.
New York's defense will face a tall task handling four players with 50-plus points, led by Pavel Datsyuk's 60, despite only playing 61 games. Johan Franzen's status (bad back) is also up in the air; he leads the team with 26 goals.
Henrik Lundqvist should be between the pipes for the team's fifth game of the seven-game homestand.