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Against one of the league’s worst teams, the New York Rangers best players were still…well, their best players.
After Tuesday night’s 6-2 demolition of the lowly Columbus Blue Jackets at Madison Square Garden, they’ll need to do it again and then some in a highly anticipated matchup against the New Jersey Devils with home ice in a potential playoff series and second place in the Metropolitan Division on the line.
The Blueshirts got 28 saves from Igor Shesterkin, who was dazzling at times to keep the score as lopsided as it ultimately was, and used goals from Filip Chytil, Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, Vincent Trocheck, Patrick Kane and Vladimir Tarasenko – with the latter two scoring in the same game for the first time since their respective acquisitions near the trade deadline – to get past the current leader in the clubhouse to secure the best chance at the number one overall pick in the upcoming Draft.
Now well past their rebuild phase, the Rangers sights are set on a potential Stanley Cup, but so too are those of the Devils, who will host their rivals at the Prudential Center in the most highly-anticipated meeting between the two teams in years.
Not overlooking the Blue Jackets on the way to that contest, however, showed not only a sign of maturity from the group as a whole, but perhaps some influence from the once-outsiders who have been down this road before on other teams.
“We were pretty focused on tonight,” said Kane, who won three Stanley Cups as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks.
“We wanted to take care of business and set up the opportunity to have that chance (on Thursday). MSG is an amazing place to play, and I think it’s a big advantage to have home ice. We have that in front of us now if we do what we need to do, so it’ll be a big game coming up.”
Two points behind the Devils in the standings heading into the potentially pivotal game, what’s at stake isn’t lost on anyone, including head coach Gerard Gallant, who knows that the remainder of the schedule will dictate where his team finishes, not just Thursday night.
“We’re right there,” he said. “Every game is important. I’m not looking at second place or first place, I’m looking at winning two points and seeing where we end up. Play well, play hard and at the end of the night, we’ll check the standings after the game and see where we’re at. It might be important, it might not be, but I want us to play good hockey.”
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