Confidence is contagious, and if the Rangers wanted to trace why they have suddenly found the ability to score -- after it was so distant to them for the first 48 games of the year -- then the right direction to look might be between their own pipes.
Henrik Lundqvist has been one of the only consistent pieces to the rather jagged puzzle of the Rangers season. So when they exploded for 14 goals over their previous two games, that confidence might be due to the fact that they know no matter what happens, the guy in their crease is the one guy they can trust.
"I hope they feel confidence in me the same way I feel confidence in them in front of me," Lundqvist said yesterday after practice. "Confidence is a two-way street."
It's about time some support started coming down that street in Lundqvist's direction.
Going into tonight's game in Philadelphia (7:00; MSG, ESPN 1050 AM), Lundqvist has given up two or fewer goals in 15 of his previous 17 games. Yet, minus the most recent two-game outburst, during that span Lundqvist was receiving just 1.88 goals in support.
"It's good to see these guys get confidence scoring, it's important," Lundqvist said. "[Tuesday] night we had a lot of guys scoring, not just one guy. It builds confidence, not only for [the offense], but for the whole game."
The most important thing during that stretch is that the Blueshirts have gone 10-3-4 and have fought their way back into a tie for the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference.
"The past couple games, we scored goals," coach John Tortorella said with a shrug. "We continue to practice and prepare the same way, we're going to try and continue doing that to try and stay consistent."
If anything substantiates the Rangers' utter reliance on Lundqvist it is the fact that their backup goalie situation has been in flux since they sent down veteran Steve Valliquette on Dec. 3.
Since then, there has been a revolving door between Broadway and Hartford for neophyte netminders, the most recent transaction coming yesterday when Chad Johnson, 23, was sent down and Matt Zaba, 26, was recalled to backup for the upcoming two-game road trip.
"We don't want to lose development with our goaltending," said Tortorella after stating the Johnson will likely get two or three starts for the Wolfpack while the Rangers are away. "You walk a fine line there, as far as carrying people versus them playing [in the minors]."
Luckily, the Rangers don't have to worry about their starting goalie being sub-par. By starting 44 of the first 50 games, Lundqvist is in the midst of carrying the heaviest workload in his 4½ NHL seasons. He is also slotted to be the starter for Team Sweden come the Olympics next month, but if he can keep riding this wave, it shouldn't be a problem.
"Personally, the last 20-25 games, I've been playing the way I want to play, and the way I have to play, if I want to give us a chance to win games," Lundqvist said. "My game doesn't really change that much, no matter how the offense is playing."
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