The New York Rangers have won six of their last nine home games, but that isn’t likely to placate the growing frustration of fans at Madison Square Garden.
After another road loss, the reeling Rangers host the Toronto Maple Leafs on Sunday night, trying to hold onto one of the final playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.
New York (31-23-6) is 2-7-2 since Jan. 28, with both wins coming at MSG, including a 3-1 victory against the league-worst New York Islanders on Wednesday that ended a three-game losing streak.
The Rangers, however, were unable to build on that performance when they went back on the road Saturday, losing 4-2 to Buffalo to fall to 0-7-1 away from home since a 3-2 overtime victory at Chicago on Jan. 16.
New York has been outscored 31-8 during its road slump, raising questions about coach Tom Renney’s job security
“We have to collectively get our heads around what it takes to win a hockey game. We’re in a very desperate situation,” Renney said. “Maybe we’re scared enough now to go out and play hard.”
Having three of their next four games at home should give Renney’s club a bit of a reprieve. The Rangers are 6-2-1 at MSG since Dec. 29, averaging 3.3 goals. That success, though, likely won’t quiet fans who have been calling for the firing of Renney and general manager Glen Sather.
Adding to the mounting pressure is the Rangers’ once firm grasp on a playoff spot looks much more tenuous now. New York is tied with Florida and Buffalo for sixth in the East with 68 points, three ahead of ninth-place Carolina.
The Rangers will try to get off to a better start Sunday after they fell behind 3-0 to the Sabres before Markus Naslund scored a power-play goal - New York’s third in the last 40 chances - in the third period.
“We have to be better than this,” Naslund said. “It’s up to us if we’re going to make the playoffs.”
Toronto (21-26-12), meanwhile, has lost three straight (0-1-2) and has one win in its last six games (1-2-3). The Maple Leas are coming off a 3-2 shootout loss to Vancouver on Saturday - the sixth time in 15 games they’ve played beyond regulation.
Mats Sundin, who spent 13 years in Toronto, had the decisive goal in the third round of the shootout after the Canucks scored the tying goal with 3:57 left in regulation.
“I thought we played a good game,” Toronto coach Ron Wilson said. “It was high intensity with good end-to-end action.”
Blake has been one of the Leafs’ hottest players lately, contributing 11 goals and 11 assists in his last 15 games. He only has one goal in his last nine contests against the Rangers, however.
Goaltender Vesa Toskala made 35 saves in his first start in a week Saturday. He missed the previous two games after undergoing an MRI on his hip and groin.
Toronto has recorded a point in both games against the Rangers this season, losing 1-0 in a shootout at MSG in October and winning 5-2 at home on Nov. 1. The teams will meet again on Wednesday in Toronto.
Prior to Sunday’s game, the Rangers will recognize two players from the days of the “Original Six” era when they retire the jerseys of Harry Howell and Andy Bathgate.
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