Friday, March 9, 2012

Rangers vs. Blackhawks Tonight at 8:30

The Rangers face the Blackhawks tonight at 8:30 and will be looking to avoid losing three straight games in regulation; something they have avoided doing all season long thus far.

When the Rangers played the Blackhawks earlier this season on Feb. 16 at Madison Square Garden, they were trounced and found themselves in an early 4-0 deficit that they never overcame. I really do think that was the start of this funk the Rangers are in and the first real signs of concern that their play might be dipping. They've managed to tread water since that game and have gone a mediocre 5-3-2 over that span. It's clear that the Rangers need to clean up their play and overcome this inconsistent stretch if they want to get back to form as the No. 1 team in the East.

I think the first period will be key for the Rangers tonight. If they come out slow and sluggish the way they have the past few games, then Henrik Lundqvist could be in for a very long night. Getting an early lead and establishing pressure on the forecheck to set a tone early in the game will be huge for the Rangers, and I'm sure it's something John Tortorella will be preaching about before the game.

Brandon Dubinsky (nose) is expected to miss a second consecutive game, which means the lines will likely be the same as last night versus Ottawa. For the Blackhawks, Jonathan Toews will miss his ninth straight game with a concussion. Toews is a big omission from Chicago's lineup tonight, but the Rangers shouldn't get overconfident and think the Hawks will just lay down and die without their captain in the lineup.

I'm not concerned about the Rangers; at least, not yet. Every team has these swoons where they play poorly and look like a total different team. The good teams are the ones that can overcome it, and I certainly think the Rangers can. It's one of those situations where I think they just need a real solid and convincing win over a team to get their confidence back. If they get back to what they've been doing all year long then they'll be fine. The good part here is that the Rangers piled up the wins earlier in the season against bad teams and have allowed themselves a bit of a cushion for situations like this.

The Rangers will look to turn things around in about an hour from now with King Henrik back in net.

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