Star players Jaromir Jagr, Brendan Shanahan and Henrik Lundqvist will likely determine the New York Rangers’ ultimate fate this season. A trio of unheralded youngsters, though, has played the biggest role in the team’s last two wins.
The Rangers (22-20-5) look to continue their recent success against the Boston Bruins (22-18-5) when the teams meet Saturday at TD Banknorth Garden in the opener of a home-and-home series.
Since losing a season-high five straight, the Rangers have rebounded to win two of their last three games. Leading the way offensively in victories over Montreal and Buffalo has been the checking line of Brandon Dubinsky, Petr Prucha and Nigel Dawes.
Prucha and Dubinsky each had a goal and an assist, and Lundqvist made 23 saves in New York’s 2-1 victory over struggling Buffalo on Wednesday.
“Obviously, we’ve had a bad string, but for our team and our season’s sake, we’ve got to turn the corner and make sure we’re bringing that effort and intensity every night,” Dubinsky said.
Dubinsky, 21, Prucha, 25, and Dawes, 22, have combined for four goals and six assists in the last three games.
“We’re having fun out there together,” Dubinsky told the Rangers’ official Web site. “We’re just trying to maximize our time in their zone and minimize their time in ours, and then we can use the talent the three of us have and help provide some offense for the team.”
Prucha, who went 17 games without a goal before scoring twice at Toronto on Dec. 29, has four in his last eight contests.
Although both were held without a point, the Rangers were bolstered Wednesday by the return of Shanahan and Sean Avery.
Shanahan, who missed the previous two games with a hip injury, leads the team with 15 goals.
Avery, sidelined the last four games by an injured right wrist, only has two goals in 22 games this season, but his ability to agitate the opposition makes him very valuable. New York is 30-13-8 with Avery in the lineup since acquiring him last February, and 9-13-3 without him.
The Rangers had won eight straight against the Bruins before losing the first meeting this season, 1-0 in a shootout at Boston on Oct. 20. New York hasn’t lost in regulation to the Bruins since March 4, 2004.
Lundqvist has been outstanding against Boston, going 7-0-1 with two shutouts and a 1.09 goals-against average.
“It’s a huge weekend,” All-Star center Marc Savard said. “But we got a point tonight and we are now tied with the Rangers, so it sets up a big weekend.”
With several top forwards out, Boston’s defensemen have played more of an offensive role lately. Chara has two goals and seven assists in his last seven games while Dennis Wideman has two goals and two assists in that span.
The teams conclude the home-and-home set Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden.