Posted by qbert1387 on March 19th, 2012
The New York Rangers have a chance to be the first team in the Eastern Conference to clinch a spot in the playoffs needing just 1 point, which at the very least would have fans breathing a sigh of relief. They play the hated rival New Jersey Devils tonight, and like the rest of the Eastern Conference, they are not that far back in the rear view mirror anymore. With an overtime loss to Philadelphia, the Penguins are now just 1 point back of the idle Rangers, while the Flyers picked up two points of their own (only 3 points back). The Devils are still 8 points behind the Rangers, but this rivalry is heating up, and the Rangers are quickly cooling off. The Rangers have gone 4-5-1 in March, while Pittsburgh had reeled off 11 straight wins before losing to Philly in overtime, and managing to get stronger with Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang returning from concussions.
Granted, it’s to be expected that every team eventually goes through a dry spell throughout the season, and it’s unfortunate that it’s happening this late in the season for the Rangers. The Rangers have been riddled with injuries to key players in recent weeks, at the most inopportune time, including the likes of: captain Ryan Callahan, Michael Del Zotto, Artem Anisimov, Brandon Dubinsky, and even Henrik Lundqvist had to sit out because of the flu. Many fans have been skeptical all season on whether the Rangers were seriously the #1 team in the Conference, but since they’ve dominated that position all year and have now floundered themselves back into just 1 and 3 point leads in the conference and division…is it now time to panic in New York?
Being the #1 seed in the playoffs was not going to guarantee anything come playoff time, as the Canadiens showed the Capitals in 2010, but it would’ve guaranteed two things the Rangers haven’t seen in quite some time. First, the playoffs would go through MSG. In recent years the Rangers have found themselves sneaking into the playoffs as 7 or 8 seeds and playing away from the Garden, but this year fans were excited for hockey in New York. Second, the #1 seed would have allowed the Rangers the best playoff matchups, meaning they would avoid teams like the Penguins, Flyers, and Devils. Now, I think the Rangers could be New Jersey or Philly in a 7 game series, as proven by how they’ve played them during the year, but it would take a huge physical toll on them as they try to advance deeper into the playoffs.
One thing is for sure, with 11 games left on their schedule (including games against Philly and Pitt in April), the Rangers must heed the 1994 Rangers and “Heave Ho…Pull Together”, or their Eastern Conference dominating fairy-tale season could be an epic collapse.