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Rangers look to clinch a playoff spot as Eric Staal returns to Carolina

Bobby Bevilacqua

eric staal full body profile 2-29

Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.

For the first time ever, Eric Staal will be playing against the team that he spent 12 years in his return to Raleigh, this time in a different sweater. The Rangers (43-24-9) can clinch their sixth consecutive playoff appearance with a regulation or overtime win against the Carolina Hurricanes (33-28-16), and Eric Staal will be a part of it.

It was a tough transition for the former Hurricanes’ captain, who had to learn a new system, move away from his family for a brief time, and fit into a new locker room with new teammates. But Staal has looked increasingly more comfortable as a Ranger, and is coming off of his best game with the team. Now he’s looking forward to taking part in the playoffs again, and will be looking to help his team clinch their berth tonight.

The Rangers have rebounded well since the 4-1 debacle of a loss at the hands of the San Jose Sharks, going 3-0-1 in their last four games and 16-7-3 since February 4. The Penguins are just one point behind the Rangers, so a regulation or overtime win is needed to officially punch their ticket to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. After the overtime loss to Pittsburgh on Sunday, New York is just 13-10-4 against Metropolitan opponents, but that includes a 3-0-0 mark against the Hurricanes.

This is the fourth and final matchup between these two teams, with New York looking to sweep another season series. They come into this game with a nine game win streak against the ‘Canes, beginning on April 8, 2014. It’s been quite the domination for the Rangers, giving up two goals or less in eight of the nine games and surrendering a total of just 11 goals in those games. The Rangers have won all three games, outscoring the Hurricanes 11-4, and Lundqvist has made 96 saves on 100 shots against.

Cam Ward is the likely starter for Carolina, facing his longtime teammate and friend Eric Staal for the first time in his career. The two were on the same team that won the Stanley Cup back in 2006, and have been really good friends, so it’ll be weird for the two of them. Ward is in the last year of his contract, and has posted a 21-16-10 record along with a 2.39 GAA and a .909 save percentage.

Jeff Skinner won the Calder Trophy back in 2011 after scoring 31 goals and 63 points in his rookie season. He has had some struggles in the years after that, but is enjoying a solid season this year, leading the Hurricanes with 47 points (26-21-47). He’s an excellent shooter with a good set of hands, as well as a strong skater, so he’ll be leaned on for offensive production.

Jordan Staal was Eric’s teammate since the 2012-13 season, but he’ll be opposite of his brother tonight, as well as playing against Marc Staal. Jordan is enjoying his best season as a member of the Hurricanes, scoring 19 goals and collecting 45 points, which is good enough for second on the team. He too will be given a lot of minutes and ice time, and will be a factor tonight.

Henrik Lundqvist will be in net for the Rangers, looking to rebound from a tough loss in a coin flip game against the Penguins and pick up his 34th win of the season. For the most part, Hank has been spectacular lately in both wins and some of his losses, playing some of his best hockey since October and early November. Against the Hurricanes in his career, Lundqvist is 23-9-1 with a 2.03 GAA, a .929 save percentage and two shutouts. He has a seven game win streak against the ‘Canes, with a 1.26 GAA, a .957 save percentage and a shutout.

The easy choice for the player to highlight is Eric Staal. He meant so much to the Hurricanes’ organization, guided them to a Stanley Cup in their most successful era of hockey, and served as an excellent mentor and captain to all of the young prospects there. He wrote an excellent piece for the Player’s Tribune (Link HERE) and will no doubt get a very warm welcome tonight at the PNC Arena. Staal is coming off of his best game as a Ranger, scoring twice against Pittsburgh and playing very well alongside Kevin Hayes and Jesper Fast. I think he’ll have a big game tonight.

After a long dry spell, JT Miller is beginning to look like himself again and continues to score, sitting at 21 goals and 41 points on the season. He’s playing on a top line with Derick Brassard and Rick Nash, so the opportunities will be there for him. I’m looking for Miller to close out the season on a high note heading into the playoffs.

There will be no lineup changes, meaning Oscar Lindberg will be a healthy scratch for the eight consecutive game. Joining him in the press box is Dylan McIlrath, who was cleared to return to game action.

The Rangers and the Hurricanes will faceoff at 7 PM at the PNC Arena. The game will be broadcasted on MSG Network.

EXPECTED LINEUP

Rick Nash-Derick Brassard-JT Miller

Chris Kreider-Derek Stepan-Mats Zuccarello

Eric Staal-Kevin Hayes-Jesper Fast

Tanner Glass-Dominic Moore-Viktor Stalberg

Ryan McDonagh-Kevin Klein

Keith Yandle-Dan Girardi

Marc Staal-Dan Boyle

Henrik Lundqvist

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Posted on March 31, 2016, in Game Previews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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