In three games at Nassau Coliseum last season, the Rangers surrendered 17 goals. Henrik Lundqvist and backup Martin Biron each were chased from the net in the barrages. After 6-2 and 6-4 losses, the Blueshirts did salvage a 6-5 win last Dec. 2, but overall, the trips to Long Island did not produce memorable snapshots for their 2010-11 yearbook.
So one might think that maybe the Rangers, in search of their first win of the young season (0-0-2), would be wary of again venturing into the rival den. But several antsy players, as well as a terse coach John Tortorella, said yesterday that it would be good to jump into an intense game tomorrow after a week of rest and preparation.
“It's a perfect game to get back to playing in North America,” said captain Ryan Callahan, one of the best Rangers on ice in the two games in Stockholm. “It's a game we always get up for, and we always get the best out of them.’’ Erik Christensen agreed: “Going into their building is always intense…If you can't get up for this game, there’s something wrong with you.”
For two teams that haven’t met in the playoffs since the Conference Quarterfinals in 1994, this could have the rough-and-tumble atmosphere of teams scrapping for a date in the post-season.
“It looks like the Islanders are going to have a pretty good team this year,” said Lundqvist, who will start in goal. “It's going to be good for hockey in the New York area to have three teams (Devils included) fighting for spots and increase the intensity of the rivalries even more.”
The pressure is on. In a short, unusually tight-lipped session with the media today, Tortorella said simply: “We had a good week; we need to get a game now.”
Neither team is at full strength, with the Blueshirts missing two of their top four defensemen, Marc Staal (concussion) and Michael Sauer (shoulder), as well as forward Wojtek Wolski (groin). Rick DiPietro (concussion) is out for the Islanders; Nino Niederreiter and defenseman Milan Jurcina have groin injuries.
Jeff Woywitka, 28, who was claimed off waivers from Montreal last week, will step in for Sauer and make his Rangers debut. He has no real sense of the rivalry, which began in 1972 and has spanned 234 games and eight playoff series, but was told by Michael Del Zotto: “They’re always ready for us, and we’ve got to be sure we’re up for the test.”