The New York Rangers may have lost two straight games to the Pittsburgh Penguins and Colorado Avalanche, but they will still have the opportunity to officially clinch a playoff spot with at least a point in tonight's match-up with the New Jersey Devils at Madison Square Garden. With both the Washington Capitals and Winnipeg Jets losing on Sunday, the Blueshirts' magic number is down to just one as the ninth place team would be able to max out at 96 points for the season and right now the Rangers have 95. The Rangers also hold the tiebreaker in that situation, so at least getting tonight's tilt to overtime will do the job.
But just getting the game to overtime, or simply clinching a playoff spot, is not the team's goal for tonight. After a dominating performance on Saturday in which the goaltending of SEMYON VARLAMOV caused the Rangers to fall short of victory, they'll be hungry for their 45th win on the year this evening. Prior to last Thursday, which was when the Penguins came to town and wiped up, John Tortorella's Rangers were getting back on track with wins against the Islanders and the Hurricanes. Thursday's loss was obviously a step backwards, but Saturday's defeat, although a loss, left the coach encouraged...
"I’m encouraged. We were stiffer. I thought we made some really good defensive plays and our chances were really good chances so we can’t get discouraged."
Torts is absolutely right. If not for Varlamov, the Rangers win that game rather easily. In fact, it would've been a blowout that had the fan base singing a happy tune once again.
But at this time of year a loss is a loss and it's tough to generate a legitimate excuse. The Rangers must come out and convert on scoring opportunities and capitalize on powerplay chances, otherwise they will be facing yet another frustrating defeat in front of their home fans.
Plus, with the Pittsburgh Penguins now only one point behind New York for the top spot in the Eastern Conference, the Blueshirts need to widen the gap before that position slips from their grasp, or even worse, they ultimately lose home ice advantage in the playoffs.
The Devils aren't exactly in fantastic position, either. They are currently in sixth place in the East and are desperately seeking home ice advantage. Unfortunately for them, home ice is seven points away and they've played one more game than most of the teams ahead of them.
Meanwhile, they were also blown away by the Penguins, 5-2, on Saturday night in a performance that left head coach Pete DeBoer in disgust...
"You cannot show up against, I think, the best team that I've seen this year with less than you're A-game," he said. "We were off in some areas and they expose it and make you pay."
New Jersey is also a very aggravated hockey club right now and they would rather no other opponent than the rival Rangers to take their anger out on. After all, they are leading the season series with New York, 3-2, with their most recent victory coming in a 4-1 routing back on March 6.
The Rangers' effort and desperation in that game was unacceptable so the team-wide intensity must be improved tonight on home ice.
The lineup will remain unchanged, as Artem Anisimov (shoulder) will not make his return.
New York Rangers Lineup
Hagelin - Richards - Gaborik
Dubinsky - Stepan - Callahan
Fedotenko - Boyle - Prust
Rupp - Mitchell - Zuccarello
McDonagh - Girardi
Staal - Del Zotto
Erixon - Bickel