After a three-country, two-continent, seven-game road trip to start the season, the New York Rangers have a new-look home waiting for them.
They’ll play their first game of the season at the renovated Madison Square Garden on Thursday night, looking to extend their dominance over a Toronto Maple Leafs team that has slowed down somewhat since a fast start.
New York’s marathon trip, which began with two games in Sweden and also took the team through western Canada, was necessitated in part by the extensive remodeling to MSG that began during the summer.
“We love what we see,” coach John Tortorella said after his team’s first practice at the upgraded arena Wednesday. “But we need to win here. That’s what makes a building good.”
The Rangers’ exhausting trek finally came to an end with a 2-1 victory over Winnipeg on Monday. Backup Martin Biron(notes) stopped 27 shots and Ryan Callahan(notes) scored the go-ahead goal on a power play in the third period for New York (3-2-2).
“If you look at it, we’ve played seven road games with a trip to Europe and a western Canadian trip and we’ve only lost two games in regulation,” Biron said.
“We got points in five out of the seven. You win three of them, it makes a big difference going home.”
The Rangers were able to come out of the trip in good shape thanks in large part to Biron and No. 1 goaltender Henrik Lundqvist(notes), who have a combined 1.80 goals-against average. New York’s 2.0 goals per game rank near the bottom of the NHL.
Lundqvist should be back in net for the home opener after the planned day off, and he would be going for his third consecutive shutout of Toronto. He beat the Leafs 7-0 with 22 saves Jan. 19 at MSG and won 2-0 with a 36-save performance at Air Canada Centre on Oct. 30, 2010.
The veteran has gone 5-0-2 with a 1.56 GAA in his last seven starts in the series, powering a 10-game point streak for the Rangers against the Leafs. New York has won the last three meetings.
While the Rangers will be facing a first-place Leafs team, Toronto (5-2-1) has dropped two of its last three, allowing 14 goals in that span. The Leafs fell 4-2 at Philadelphia on Monday.
The Leafs have managed two goals in each of the last two losses. They could get an offensive boost Thursday from center Tim Connolly(notes), who has not played this season due to an upper-body injury but is expected to make his debut, playing on a line with Kessel and Joffrey Lupul(notes).
“We’re a little hurting up the middle, but that will all hopefully be solved by Thursday,” coach Ron Wilson said.
That performance came against Jonas Gustavsson(notes), but top goalie James Reimer(notes) will be in net for Toronto against the Rangers. Reimer left Saturday’s 5-4 win over Montreal with a neck injury and missed the Flyers game.
New York could get some much-needed help on the blueline Thursday, as Tortorella indicated that defenseman Michael Sauer is set to return.