Critical stretch for Rangers starts Monday


Finally home in a revamped Madison Square Garden following a demoralizing nine-game road trip to begin the season, the Rangers are in dire need of some wins.

This next stretch -- five of the next six games at MSG, the other just a short bus ride away at Nassau Coliseum -- will be a critical juncture for the Rangers' season. Desperate to rack up points and gain some ground in the Eastern Conference standings, the 3-6-0 Blueshirts need to start with a strong effort in Monday's Original Six matchup against the Montreal Canadiens.

Although their injury-plagued lineup still presents some challenges, New York will have Henrik Lundqvist making his return after missing the past two games with an undisclosed injury.

Even though the 2012 Vezina Trophy winner has been shaky thus far (3.45 GAA, .890 save percentage), his presence in nets still provides the team the best chance for success ahead.

"It's a good feeling to be back here," Lundqvist said. "I think everyone's really excited to be in front of our own fans and get some momentum here."

Lundqvist, who was battling through the aforementioned mystery injury during at least a portion of the road trip, said he feels confident that the issue will no longer be a problem.

Whatever was hampering him has improved over the past week and he doesn't anticipate it affecting him further.

"The last couple days it's been going in the right direction. That's all you can ask for," Lundqvist said after the team's Monday morning skate. "Now it's behind me so I'm looking forward to playing."

The Rangers are coming off a morale-boosting performance in Saturday's overtime victory over the Detroit Red Wings -- a win in which Derick Brassard notched the game-winner with time winding down in OT.

"It felt pretty good, especially with the win," said Brassard, who struggled to find his game early this season. "I want to help the team with my offense."

Lack of offensive "pushback," as coach Alain Vigneault put it, was a consistent problem for the team during its early-season travails. In the past three games, however, the Rangers have notched a respectable eight goals.

During that span, they've also played a bit more conservatively. Instead of falling victim to the mistake-riddled eyesores out West, the team is playing more structured and "close to the vest."

"Slowly and surely, players are starting to understand what they have to do to be more consistent," Vigneault said.

Monday's match also marks Vigneault's debut at the Garden, a date on the calendar he has been eagerly anticipating since being hired as John Tortorella's successor this summer.

"I've been waiting for this for quite some time."