The New York Rangers took care of business in the first two games of a critical road trip with back-to-back wins. Now, this Thanksgiving week, they face a more daunting challenge. They will play four games in seven days, three of which are against top-tier NHL teams. Following their third and final road game of the trip, they will return home for a Saturday afternoon game. This Rangers team has already been through several tests of resolve only two months into the season. This coming week will reveal a lot about their character.
Despite the Tampa Bay Lightning having the fourth-best record in the Eastern Conference, they are missing Steven Stamkos and have lost four in a row. The Lightning may be ahead of the Rangers in the standings, but this is arguably a trap game. The Lightning are desperate to break their losing streak, and they are 8-2-0 at home this season. The Rangers cannot underestimate them without their best player. Their game against the Florida Panthers looks like a “should-win” on paper, but we said the same thing on Nov. 10, as well. Yes, the Rangers won that game 4-3, but it was a much more difficult task than it should have been. If Tim Thomas is in vintage form for Florida, the Rangers may be in for a long night.
Then, on Black Friday, there is the “Thanksgiving Showdown” against the Boston Bruins. The Rangers dominated Boston on their home ice last week and still lost. If the Bruins bring any semblance of their A-game at home, the Rangers must match it with their A-game, or they will most certainly lose. Then, the very next afternoon, the Rangers welcome back their old coach, John Tortorella, and his Vancouver Canucks to town. You know Torts wants this game, and with his team struggling lately, he will have his team play desperate hockey.
This week is a test of the Rangers’ mettle. None of these games will be easy to win, and if they are looking to come closer together as a unit, a successful week against difficult opponents will go a long way. They have already passed the first part of the test on this long road trip. Now comes the hard part.