With the season coming down to the wire, the Rangers are in Denver, Colorado for the second game of a three-game road trip against the injured Colorado Avalanche. The Blueshirts have won ten of their last eleven games on the road (10:00 P.M. ET, MSG+).
The Rangers will play the Avalanche in the second game of a back-to-back set. Tuesday night, was a feel-good moment for the entire team. The Blueshirts returned to winning ways with a 4-2 win over the Dallas Stars. The Rangers were particularly impressive during the first 40 minutes where they were leading 4-0 after two periods. Kaapo Kakko had a “feel good game” by scoring two goals including the game-winning goal. Prior to Tuesday, the 19-year-old hadn’t scored since February 9th.
“It’s huge for him,” said head coach David Quinn. “It’s a heck of a play by Howden on the first one and a great play by Fox and Mika on the second one, but he was in the right place. I liked his game tonight, I thought he played a really good game.”
Igor Shesterkin made 31 saves and recorded his first win since suffering a fractured rib in a car accident. Shesterkin was bounced in his return to the lineup by the Devils on Saturday. The 24-year-old responded with an outstanding performance against Dallas to improve his career record to 10-2-0.
“We were confident as a staff that we were going to come out and play the way we were capable of playing,” said Quinn.
Mika Zibanejad continued his hot play by extending his goal streak to five-games to bring his season total to 40. Zibanejad now has 74 points in just 56 games played.
“It’s so much fun to watch a player grow, and he continues to grow, day in and day out,” Quinn said of Zibanejad.
Unfortunately for the Blueshirts, Filip Chytil was injured against Dallas and won’t be available for Wednesday’s game in Denver. Steven Fogarty was called up from Hartford on an emergency basis. Chris Kreider who recently broke his foot 12 days ago, began skating on Tuesday and could be “a little ahead of schedule.” Quinn reiterated “the timetable for Kreider hasn’t changed but that he is walking with less of a limp.”
While the Rangers are dealing with injuries up front, they are fortunate enough to not be in the shoes of the Avalanche who sit second in the Western Conference. Colorado is currently without Mikko Rantanen, Nazem Kadri, Matt Calvert, Andre Burakovsky, Colin Wilson, and starting goalie Phillip Grubauer. The injuries got worse for Colorado on Monday night when superstar Nathan MacKinnon went down with a lower-body injury and will miss a week or two. MacKinnon had 93 points in 69 games prior to suffering the injury. With MacKinnon going down, Matt Nieto and Samuel Girard are the only Avalanche players to have played in every game this season. With the news of MacKinnon being unavailable, the Avalanche have recalled former first-round pick Martin Kaut on emergency basis.
The pain will lessen a bit as Colorado will welcome back rookie sensation Cale Makar to the lineup. The 21-year-old defender has 47 points in 56 games and is considered a contender for the Calder Trophy. With MacKinnon out, Makar is Colorado’s top point scorer who will be in the lineup.
Former Ranger, Vladislav Namestnikov, who was traded to Ottawa at the beginning of the season, was traded from Ottawa to Colorado at the trade deadline and he will be available for the Avalanche. Namestnikov was also recently banged up, but according to reports he will dress for the Avalanche.
Given the circumstances of the Rangers road dominance, the injuries to Colorado, and that the Rangers are fighting for their playoff lives, they must win this game.
The Avalanche will turn to Pavel Francouz who has carried the load with Grubauer out of the lineup. Francouz is having an excellent season with a record of 20-7-4, a 2.43 goals against average, and a .922 save percentage. However, the 29-year-old has lost three of his last four starts, while posting a 3.70 goals against average and a .868 save percentage.
With the Rangers not practicing on Wednesday morning, no one will know for sure who is the Rangers starting goalie until Quinn announces the starter at his pregame media briefing. Prior to Tuesday’s game against Dallas, Quinn was asked if he will use a different goalie against Colorado and his response was “yeah”. Although there is always a chance that Quinn could turn back to Shesterkin given his sharp performance against the Stars, Alex Georgiev will likely get the start. If given the start, Georgiev will seek vengeance after surrendering six goals on 47 shots last year in the Mile-High City.
Similar to Tuesday’s game, if the Blueshirts can crack the Coloardo defense, they should put themselves in a good spot to win the game if they put in the same effort on defense they did in Dallas. Given Coloardo’s injuries, especially to MacKinnon, the Avalanche could struggle like Dallas to create chances. The Rangers second line of Artemi Panarin, Ryan Strome, and Jesper Fast were dominant against the Avalanche in the first meeting. Panarnin and Fast each registered three points.