The New York Rangers are excited to play their first home game in front of fans. The limited crowd would be thrilled if it sees the Rangers start to solve their issues in one-goal games.
Approximately 2,000 fans will watch the Rangers in person for the first time in nearly a year Friday night when they host the Boston Bruins in the opener of a two-game series.
"Being from New York, it's always special to play at (Madison Square) Garden with fans, and for the guys to have even some family there I'm sure is special," said New York defenseman Adam Fox, a Long Island native. "It's been a long time. We miss the fans at the Garden. I'm definitely excited to have them there."
The Rangers will play a home game in front of fans for the first time since a 6-4 loss to the New Jersey Devils on March 7 -- two days after Mika Zibanejad scored five times against the Washington Capitals.
Last year's Rangers team was making a run toward a postseason spot before the COVID-19 pandemic paused the season for more than four months, then got swept by the Carolina Hurricanes in a best-of-five playoff qualifier series. This year's New York team has yet to get over the .500 mark.
"It'll be exciting," Rangers coach David Quinn said after practice Thursday. "It's been strange because we've actually been getting used to playing in front of nobody, so I don't care if there's 15 or 1,500 people in the building, it's going to be nice to have people there cheering you on. I know our guys are excited about it."
Among the reasons the Rangers are off to a middling start is their 2-5-3 record in one-goal games. Three of those losses are during a 2-4-1 slide since Feb. 8. The latest occurred Wednesday, a 4-3 setback at Philadelphia, where New York wasted a hat trick by Chris Kreider.
Kreider has a team-leading eight goals while Artemi Panarin and Ryan Strome are tied for second with five apiece. Panarin will miss his second straight game after taking a leave of absence for personal reasons, and the Rangers likely will be without defenseman K'Andre Miller and forward Kaapo Kakko because of COVID protocols.
Boston handed the Rangers a pair of one-goal home losses two weeks ago, getting a 3-2 overtime win on Feb. 10 and a 1-0 win two nights later. The Bruins are 7-2-2 in one-goal games but 1-3-0 overall since their past visit to Madison Square Garden.
Boston will be looking to rebound from its worst showing of the season, a 7-2 road loss to the New York Islanders on Thursday.
Nick Ritchie and Craig Smith scored, but the Bruins allowed five goals in a span of nearly 11 minutes during the third period.
"(Thursday) was hopefully a one-off," Ritchie said. "We just fell apart and kind of stopped playing, and that's what happens in this league. There's a lot of good teams."
The Bruins have allowed 17 goals in their past four games following a 9-0-1 run from Jan. 21-Feb. 12 when they won six one-goal games. During the past four games, Boston has allowed eight goals in the third period.
"There wasn't any (urgency)," Boston coach Bruce Cassidy said after the Thursday defeat. "That's a problem because I don't usually see that with our club."
While the Bruins are 0-2-0 on Long Island this season, they have done well at Madison Square Garden recently, going 5-0-1 in their past six visits.
--Field Level Media