New York Rangers vs. Phoenix Coyotes - 3/24/14
Phoenix Coyotes (34-26-11) at New York Rangers (39-29-4)
NHL Hockey: Monday, March 24, 2014 at 7:00 pm (Madison Square Garden)
The Line: New York Rangers / Phoenix Coyotes --- Over/Under: See the Latest Odds
The New York Rangers have been playing pretty well of late but so has just about everyone else in the Eastern Conference playoff race. No matter how many points the Rangers pick up it seems like every other club is doing the same, leaving New York no margin for error. New York has played more games than most of the teams they're competing with but the Rangers do have a big advantage in regulation and overtime wins which would be the first tiebreaker if they finished tied in points with one of these clubs. Friday night's affair in Columbus was about as chippy as you'll see the Rangers get. Captain Rick Nash returned home for the first time and was noticeable all game long, battling with Blue Jackets netminder Sergei Bobrovsky, generating chances, and getting into a fight off the opening face off in the third period. A late goal from Derick Brassard lifted the Rangers to the 3-1 win but they needed to follow it up on Saturday against the New Jersey Devils. New York played about as well defensively as a team can play against the Devils as the home club had some jump early and tried to take advantage of a team that played a very physical game the night before. New Jersey controlled the puck for long stretches in the offensive zone in the opening period but there were simply unable to generate shots or any quality opportunities. New Jersey had the puck for most of the opening 20 minutes but the Rangers allowed just five shots and out shot them 9-5 in the frame. Still scoreless in the second period it was Rick Nash throwing a bad angled shot on net with Marty Brodeur still trying to find the puck as it slipped past him to snap the scoreless tie. It was Nash's 23rd goal of the season and proved to be the difference maker. The Devils had some chances but it never really appeared they'd get one past Henrik Lundqvist who set the Rangers franchise record for career shutouts in the 2-0 win. With a difficult western Canadian swing to Calgary, Edmonton, and Vancouver coming up before finishing the trip in Colorado, Monday's tilt agains the Phoenix Coyotes is crucial for this Rangers club if they're going to make the post season.
Phoenix had won three straight games before Saturday night's loss to the Boston Bruins but there isn't a lot of margin of error for the Coyotes who hold just a two point lead over the Dallas Stars for the final wild card berth in the Western Conference. Monday night is the first of a three game east coast swing that takes the Coyotes to New York before heading to Pittsburgh and New Jersey. Phoenix needs to find a way to get points out of these next two games against some difficult opponents or they could very well find themselves on the outside looking in when they return home next week. Saturday it was Oliver Ekman-Larsson snapping a 1-1 tie early in the second period to give the Coyotes a 2-1 lead over the Boston Bruins heading into the third. Everything came undone for Phoenix over the final 20 minutes however, alloing the Bruins to score three times as they were handed a difficult 4-2 defeat. Mike Smith would like to have that final period back but he continues to be the rock for this club and they'll need him again on Monday. Shane Doan also added his 20th goal of the season in the opening period as the veteran continues to defy age out in the desert.
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
This should be a pretty entertaining hockey game on Monday night between two clubs that are desperate for points. Lots of times these cross-conference match ups lack energy and intensity but there's no reason for this one to fall into that category with everything that's on the line in this one. Both teams are desperate for points so if this one is tied in the third period don't be shocked if both teams play for overtime to ensure themselves moving up in the standings. I'll take the Rangers in this one who are looking to pick up their fourth consecutive win.