NYR can't afford letdown against Calgary on 1st leg of trip

             Spring? Ha. Light snow swirling around here in Calgary on the first leg of this nine-day Western road trip. 

             The Rangers will practice at 11:30 at the Saddledome (1:30 ET) for the 7 p.m. start against the Flames (9 p.m. ET), and the message from the coaching staff and team leaders has to be simple: Keep focused.

            Both the Flames (67 points) and Oilers (59), who the Rangers play Sunday, have sunk to the depths of the standings. The Blueshirts have reeled off five straight, are 41-29-4 and 23-13-0 on the road.

            Two wins (90 points) would nail down a 2nd or 3rd place finish in the Metro, avoiding a first-round matchup with the Penguins or the Bruins. Boston is the NHL’s Lamborghini, running on all cylinders. Someone in that 2nd wild-card spot in the East is going to get run over in the first round.

           It is the last game of a homestand for the Flames, who are expecting to start goaltender Karri Ramo and have the role of spoiler. They beat the Sharks Monday and lost 3-2 to the Ducks Wednesday.

         The Flames are a heavy team and with some feistiness, but without much defense. They have allowed 211 goals, in the bottom 10 of the league, and scored 183, which is even fewer than the Rangers’ 194. Players to watch: Rookie forwards Sean Monahan and Joe Colborne.

           For the Blueshirts, this is a big trip for Martin St. Louis, pointless in four games and playing with Derek Stepan and Rick Nash in injured Chris Kreider’s spot. That trio needs to produce.

             Ryan McDonagh is sizzling offensively (read about that in the paper and on newsday.com) and the fourth line, including Western Canada native Derek Dorsett, has been grinding, aggressive and pitching in with goals. Just what a fourth line needs to do.

            Off to the Dome. Latest news, observations, quotes, Vigneault’s morning briefing, all coming up shortly here, and as usual, on Twitter @stevezipay.








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