There is a philosophy in sports that every game is a "must-win" game, and from an NHL team's perspective, every regular season game they play is worth the same thing: two points. However, based on the circumstances that are happening around them, the New York Rangers need to win tonight's game against the New York Islanders.
After consistently cruising through most of the regular season, the Rangers have hit a rough patch in the first week of March. In a month where the Rangers play 17 games, they have started 2-3-1 and lost three games in a row in regulation for the first time all season.
In those three losses, the Rangers have found ways to lose games that they have normally closed out this season: a tie game entering the third period against the Devils, scoring the first goal of the game against the Senators and having a lead in the third period against the Blackhawks.
Even though losing three games in a row normally isn't a huge cause of concern, especially for a team that hadn't lost three games in a row all year, the teams chasing the Rangers for the top spot in the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference have all played well while the Rangers have slumped.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have won eight games in a row and nine out of their last ten to close the gap to four points. The Penguins play this afternoon against the Boston Bruins, who are in second place in the Eastern Conference, eight points behind the Rangers.
Also, the Philadelphia Flyers have won five games in a row and are now only six points behind the Rangers.
The Rangers are fortunate that their next seven games will be at Madison Square Garden, starting with their game against the Islanders tonight. The schedule doesn't get any easier, though, as after the Islanders, the Rangers play the Penguins (possibly with Sidney Crosby), the Devils and the Red Wings during the home stand.
But it all starts with tonight, a game the Rangers need to have for a number of reasons. They should take advantage of a team that lost a very tough game last night. They want to get a long home stand started on the right note and keep some distance between themselves and the teams breathing down their neck.
Most importantly, however, the Rangers need to get back the confidence and swagger that they have displayed all year.
Game Notes: Ryan Callahan (foot) and Michael Del Zotto (hip) will miss tonight's game. Brandon Dubinsky (nose) will return to the lineup, and forward Mats Zuccarello was recalled from Connecticut (AHL).