Thursday, March 31, 2011
Are the Rangers slipping right out of the playoffs?
By Matt Ehalt
Not that long ago the Rangers were the hottest team in the NHL and carrying a five-game win streak. Those times seem as distant as the Clinton administration following the Rangers 6-2 loss to the Islanders Thursday night. Let's back up the train and take a look at what has transpired as of late.
March 22: Rangers beat the Panthers 1-0 for fifth straight win. Let the good times roll.
March 24: Rangers lose 2-1 in overtime to the Senators. Getting three points after scoring two goals in two games isn't bad. Just a minor slip-up.
March 26: Rangers beat the Bruins 1-0. Start getting the Cup ready.
March 30: Rangers lose 1-0 to the Sabres. Still ahead of the Hurricanes by three points and even in games. It's all good if they beat the rival Isles.
March 31: Rangers lose 6-2 to the Islanders. Uh-Oh. Make that Major Uh-Oh. Panic time. Sound the alarm.
In their past five games, the Rangers have scored a combined five games. Somehow, they got five of a possible 10 points in that stretch. But in the last two nights, the Rangers have put themselves in a scary spot.
Both Buffalo and Carolina have a game in hand on the Rangers with the Sabres tied in points and the Hurricanes just three points behind. The Rangers have four games left while Buffalo and Carolina both have five.
Theoretically, if both teams win the game they have in hand, the Rangers will be in sole possession of eighth and just one point ahead of Carolina for the last spot.
Clearly, the Rangers have chosen the worst time of their season to hit a wall. The offense is sputtering and as we all know, you need to score to win unless you plan on winning each time in the shutout.
For the most part, during this stretch, Henrik Lundqvist has been steady in net, but he made his 22nd-straight start Tuesday night, a new career high, and gave up four goals. He's battled an injury recently. Could he need a rest? With Martin Biron out, the Rangers don't appear to have much faith in Chad Johnson to stand between the pipes.
Here are the Rangers, Sabres and Hurricanes remaining schedules:
Rangers April 3: @ Philadelphia--Playoff team
April 4: vs. Boston--Playoff team
April 7: vs. Atlanta--all but eliminated
April 9: vs. New Jersey---all but eliminated
Sabres April 2: @ Washington--playoff team
April 3: @ Carolina--in ninth place
April 5: vs. Tampa Bay--playoff team
April 8: vs. Philadelphia--playoff team
April 9: @ Columbus--all-but eliminated
Hurricanes April 2: @ Islanders--out of race
April 3: vs. Buffalo--playoff team
April 6: vs. Detroit--playoff team
April 8: @ Atlanta--all but eliminated
April 9: vs. Tampa Bay--playoff team
As you can see, the Rangers don't have the hardest schedule in their final four games. Buffalo faces a tough stretch and Carolina has some tough games as well. It will help the Rangers that the Hurricanes and Sabres will play.
Then again, none of this matters if the Rangers don't start scoring. And winning. Or, for the second straight year, the Rangers could be on the outside looking in.