After clinching a playoff spot Thursday, the New York Rangers had a disastrous weekend. The Blueshirts dropped two consecutive games in regulation for the first time since Jan 27-29.
It wasn’t the way the Rangers wanted to welcome back Henrik Lundqvist who played Saturday against the Boston Bruins after spending more than seven weeks on the sideline due to a vascular injury. And it wasn’t the way the Rangers wanted to celebrate clinching a playoff berth. But New York just wasn’t playing desperate hockey.
This weekend the Rangers faced off against two teams that are hungry for more points. The Boston Bruins were outside of the playoff picture when they faced the Rangers Saturday and the Washington Capitals, who beat the Rangers 5-2 on Sunday, want to continue climbing the standings to secure a better spot in the playoffs. It isn’t a certainty that either team will make the playoffs—which is why they played with more urgency.
”There is still a lot to play for,” said Rangers Coach Alain Vigneault. ”We are playing for home-ice advantage. We haven’t secured that. You also want to go into the playoffs playing the right way.”
This weekend the Rangers didn’t play the right way. They lacked energy and fumbled on their execution. New York didn’t exhibit great puck control and made ugly mistakes in their own end. They were also undisciplined as they took nine penalties in this weekend’s two games.
“The number of turnovers, semi-unforced errors that we made — some were forced, but there more semi-unforced — we have to stay away from those,” Vigneault stated. “All you’re doing there is giving the other team momentum, feeding their transition.”
The Blueshirts have gone 3-4 in their last seven, and have now allowed at least four goals in each of their past three losses after going 10 straight without giving up more than two.
“I hope our group understands that there’s a lot of work to be done,” said Derek Stepan.
“We’re just not playing our system,” said Rick Nash. “When we’re playing well we’re getting pucks deep, having no turnovers.”
The Rangers success stems from defending first and having their offense develop from their strong play in the neutral zone and their end. Unfortunately, the Rangers defense wasn’t as strong in the past two games. The Rangers also need to breathe new life into their power play, which has only produced four goals in the last 22 attempts. New York had five power plays against the Capitals and couldn’t find the net once.
Every team hits snags and losing two games in a row isn’t setting off alarm bells yet; it’s just less comfortable to experience at this point in the season. Obviously, the Blueshirts want to finish the season on the right foot, and they have seven games left to do so. That means seven more games for Lundqvist to find his game and shake off anymore rust, for Marty St. Louis to reenter the lineup, and for the Rangers, as a team, to prepare for the postseason.
They may have let their first chance to secure home-ice advantage slip through their fingers, but it is a goal they will be working toward in their next game.
“That’s the next step right now. Obviously, we’re a good road team. But playing in front of your fans, getting that home-ice advantage, in my estimation, is always a positive,” said Vigneault. “It’s something that’s close for us, and we’re definitely going to try.”
The Rangers season is not going to get any easier. The team will face off against Washington one more time (the last game of the season) and will kick off a two-game road trip against Winnipeg and Minnesota—two more desperate teams. With their schedule filled with games against teams that have more at stake, the Rangers will have to dig deep to outplay their opponents physically and mentally; it is the best way for the Rangers to nip their recent stumbles for good.