Most of the talk about Wednesday's quarterfinal hockey action in these parts has been focused on the United States and Canada, but Rangers fans should be more concerned with a game that gets underway when they should be heading to bed. Sweden and Slovakia face off at midnight in a game that could have a lot to do with how the Rangers fare for the rest of the season.
Marian Gaborik, who hails from Slovakia, has carried an obscene amount of the team's offensive punch on his shoulders this year and, barring a unforseen trade, he'll have to do that the rest of the way for the Rangers to inch their way back up the standings into the playoffs. The problem is that he's still getting over the cut on his thigh that kept him out of the last few games before Vancouver and every minute he plays for Slovakia is one less minute he has to rest entering the second half of the season.
Gaborik will be trying to score against a familiar face early Thursday morning. Henrik Lundqvist is backstopping Sweden, just as he did when they won the gold medal in 2006, and the King remains his country's best hope of repeating as champions this time around. While the Rangers are surely happy to see Lundqvist playing so well -- he hasn't allowed a goal in two games thus far -- they also must remember what happened after that magical run in '06.
Lundqvist returned to the Rangers and promptly went into the tank. He went 5-5-3 over the remainder of the season while the Rangers slumped from first in the Atlantic Division to third and got swept by the Devils in the first round of their long-awaited return to the postseason. There were other factors than just Lundqvist, of course, but it's impossible to see the Rangers advancing this year without spectacular work from the King the rest of the way.
So, between your two best and most important players, which risk is more acceptable? You've gotta go with Gaborik playing at least one more game, if only because you have to hope that he wouldn't be playing with an injury now only to go back into hiding once the regular season resumes. With that in mind, the fear of a tired Lundqvist becomes the greater risk.
Sadly, the real answer might be that it doesn't matter because the Rangers don't have the horse for the course even with Gaborik and Lundqvist playing their best. The first 62 games have made a strong argument in that direction, anyway.
And, before we go and because you might be asking, what about the U.S.? Two Rangers skate for the national team but Ryan Callahan's not the type of guy you have to worry about coming up with effort. As for Chris Drury, he's been playing well and, with two more years on his ridiculous contract, Rangers fans should probably enjoy seeing what that looks like because it doesn't happen that often during NHL play.