NEW YORK – The Habs aren’t about to make life easy on the Rangers.
To say the Rangers and Canadiens have had very different experiences this season would be an understatement. With 105 points, the Rangers are the top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference and a favorite to make a deep run this spring. Still looking to pile up points to close out the season in a race for the President’s Trophy, the Rangers will also be using their five remaining games to fine-tune their systems before the playoffs start.
| Randy Cunneyworth pre-game
Officially out of the postseason mix since last Wednesday, the Habs may be in a different situation but that doesn’t mean they’re planning on slipping into summer mode or taking it any easier on their opponents to close out the year.
“One win isn’t going to change the way we look at this season, but we’re still going to do everything we can to win every game we have left,” stressed Lars Eller. “Everything feels better when you win. It’s Madison Square Garden against the number one team in the East. There’s plenty of motivation.”
Having surprised some of the best teams in the league this season – including a 4-0 shutout over the Rangers on Nov. 17 – the Canadiens haven’t had a problem rising to the occasion against top opponents. Josh Gorges expects more of the same against the conference leaders.
“You know you’re in for a hard-fought night when you play this team. They’ve got some talent and they’ve got some skill but I think the reason this team has been successful this year is from lines one through four, they work,” stressed Gorges, who is a plus-5 in 15 career games against New York. “They work their cycle game, they come on the forecheck and they’re a hard team to play against. If you want to play an easy game tonight, you’re going to get exposed.”
With the news that general manager Pierre Gauthier had been relieved of his duties still fresh after a season marked by turmoil, the players could be excused for having their minds focused on things other than Friday night’s game. Instead, the Habs are looking to make sure they finish this season the way they plan on starting the next one.
“We came to the rink this morning knowing we have a big game against a good hockey team and that’s where we’re trying to focus our energy and our minds tonight: on making sure we come out and have a strong game and a strong showing,” confirmed Gorges. “Like we talked about yesterday, it’s a fresh start and a new beginning starting today.”
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.