For the sixth consecutive season, the New York Rangers are going to the playoffs. The Blueshirts clinched a berth on Monday night with a 4-2 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets and continued their minor winning streak with a come-from-behind win against the formidable Tampa Bay Lightning. The season is winding down fast, only two more games in the regular season, but many questions will come down to the wire. Who the Rangers will play, what seed they will end up being will come to light in due time, but New York has more dire questions to answer.
The Rangers biggest concern continues to be their defense. Captain Ryan McDonagh is sidelined indefinitely and will be unavailable for the rest of the regular season, Dan Girardi, although he continues to state he can help the Rangers make a strong playoff push, hasn’t been a strong presence on the ice all season long. Marc Staal and Keith Yandle are fine. Dan Boyle has his moments. The only shining light on the back end is Kevin Klein. Their core, their defense isn’t what it was last season. The pieces are their but nobody is playing to their full potential.
No matter who the Rangers play, their defense will play a key role in their success or failure in the postseason. At this moment, it doesn’t look too bright for the Blueshirts. Aside from their defense, the Rangers have to get their big guys hot. Rick Nash needs to find the back of the net and Eric Staal has to start earning his keep.
While we all know the playoffs are a different beast, the Rangers have a lot of work to do before the postseason begins. What the team does have going for it is its persistence.
The Rangers are a gritty and blue-collar type of team that works until the end to get results. When they find themselves down, the Rangers use every inch, every pass to rectify their mistakes. They may take stupid penalties, but then they use the penalty kill to swing the momentum of the game in their favor. Granted, this isn’t a surefire way to secure a win, but in many instances, it works for the Rangers.
They showed just what they could do with a little room on Tuesday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Lightning, although missing key pieces Steven Stamkos and Anton Stralman, are one tough opponent. They started out their season slow, but steadily found a way to be vying for the top stop in the Atlantic Division. So, for the Rangers to go down two goals early in the first and come back to win the game (and secure two vital points), exemplifies their ability to pounce on their opponents mistakes.
The Rangers need to continue their momentum. What could turn out to be one of the most important games of the regular season will be played Thursday night at Madison Square Garden. The Rangers will be squaring off with the New York Islanders and two more extremely important points will be up for grabs. We now know that both New York teams will be in the playoffs, but we don’t know who will come out victorious in the game and in the standings. With the Rangers mini winning streak, the Blueshirts need to continue demonstrate their never-give-up style of play by pushing the limits even further and perfecting their game.
Their defense just needs to be a little above average (although it would ideal if it were exceptional) because with Henrik Lundqvist in the net, the Rangers always have a good shot at winning. If every player on the roster just raises his game an inch or two, their game would be phenomenal.
The Rangers do not lack effort and they do not lack talent. The pieces to the puzzle are all there. Now, they just need to make all the pieces fit.