New York Hockey: playoffs

2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Who's hot?

April, 8, 2012
4/08/12
12:04
PM ET
If I had a nickel for every time I've heard playoff prognosticators discuss the importance of a team entering the playoffs on a hot streak, well, I probably wouldn't be staring down a microwave burrito for lunch right now. In any sport, people place a lot of emphasis on team's "peaking at the right time." New York fans only need to dial back to this past winter to recall sports soothsayers uttering as much about the New York Giants. And we all know how that played out.

So, who's hot in hockey? Here's a quick look at the Eastern Conference over the last 11 games (I added an extra game to help account for some teams resting stars in the stretch run) to see how the first-round series stack up.




Above you can really see the importance of the Rangers finishing first overall in the East. Not only do they get to face Ottawa -- one of just two teams with a negative goal differential over the last 11 games, not to mention a team that's lost three in a row -- but due to the NHL's re-seeding rules, a Rangers win in the first round could likely set up a meeting with the New Jersey Devils instead of the Philadelphia Flyers or the smoking-hot Pittsburgh Penguins in Round 2. Not to mention, the No. 1 seed assures the Rangers they won't meet the Boston Bruins -- who seem to have entered into the same late-season beast mode that carried them to the 2011 Stanley Cup -- until the Eastern Conference Finals.

But let's jump back a step. Why do I think there could be an upset in the No. 3 vs. No. 6 game?

Thanks to a win by the Florida Panthers in their regular season finale, the Devils get to play the other team with a negative goal differential, ironically a Division champ, instead of the Washington Capitals. Averaging just two goals per game over their last 11 contests, the Panthers aren't going to inspire too much fear in anyone with their recent play. And that's particularly true given their heavy reliance on OT losses just to make the postseason field.

While certainly nothing is guaranteed in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, a look at this simple heat index says the odds could be downright decent for a Rangers-Devils postseason grudge match.

Paging Stephane Matteau ...

Rapid Reaction: Capitals 2, Rangers 1 (OT)

April, 13, 2011
4/13/11
11:09
PM ET


Recap | Box score | Photos

It was nearly the perfect win for the Rangers. With a 1-0 lead late in the third, New York was closing in one a 1-0 series lead and dredging up all sorts of sour memories for the Washington Capitals. Then a goal by Alex Ovechkin changed everything. Here's how it went down at Verizon Center on Wednesday night:

What It Means: The Rangers showed they can certainly stay with the East's No. 1 seed in the playoffs, but couldn't quite close the deal. Now they'll have to keep their focus and realize that a win in Game 2 is just as important as the one that slipped away late Wednesday.

Early Energy: I thought it would be key for the Rangers to come out flying. While the Blueshirts did control the puck for much of the first four minutes, the Caps gradually took over. Taking a page from the Rangers' book, midway through the second period the Caps started initiating some big hits, keyed first by a crushing blow by Ovechkin on Brandon Dubinsky. Midway through the second period, the Caps held a 21-11 advantage in the hits category. It ended with a 35-31 lean towards the Caps.

Living Dangerously: After enduring a pair of Caps' power plays (due to two silly penalties by the Rangers) and two crossbar strikes at even strength, the Rangers were probably content to take a 0-0 tie to the locker room after the first 20 minutes. Henrik Lundqvist came up huge with two key saves to stop tap-in Caps goals, the second of which showed some sensational awareness. When a Caps' shot took a funky bounce off the boards, Lundqvist began moving to the left but caught himself when he couldn’t see the puck. He snapped his head back to the right, raised his blocker and stoned Ovechkin at point-blank range. In all, they survived the first 20 minutes unscathed despite being outshot nearly 2-1. And keep in mind those didn't include the two crossbars. Those are the sort of fortuitous breaks opponents of the Caps have enjoyed in the playoffs and the kind that have come back to haunt Washington so often. But tonight the Caps were able to overcome them.

There’s That Man Again: Fortune wasn't the only thing that kept the puck out of the net. Lundqvist was stellar, stopping 31 shots through regulation and 18:24 of OT. In the second period, he halted the Caps’ best scoring chance when he turned aside Nicklas Backstrom on a cold breakaway. Backstrom slid the puck through Lundqvist’s five hole and had his fellow Swede beat, but -- whether it was a conscious act or instinct -- the goalie flipped his right calf back underneath him to send the puck wide of the cage. Simply put, he was one referee whistle away from stealing this game from the Caps.

One And Done: Two minutes into the third period, Matt Gilroy punctuated his first playoff game with his first playoff goal. Gilroy took a feed from Brandon Prust, who was stationed behind the net, and flung it past Michal Neuvirth to stake the Rangers to a 1-0 lead. The W2W4 for this series mentioned how the Blueshirts’ forecheck could give the Caps problems, particularly Mike Green, who is shaking off rust, and John Erskine, who is not particularly strong at moving the puck out of the zone. Guess which Washington D pairing was on the ice for the goal? If I'm, John Tortorella I'm hoping to roll the Brian Boyle-Prust line against that pairing all series long.

O So Close: The Rangers were pressing the Caps' backs to the boards late in regulation when Ovechkin literally powered his team to a tying goal with six minutes and change remaining. A loose puck sat at Lundqvist's skates at the left post of the net when Ovechkin went all "world's strongest Russian left wing" to push the puck and Lundqvist over the goal line ahead of the referee's whistle. There was some question about whether there was "intent" to blow the whistle before the puck crossed the goal line, which would have negated the goal. But after a brief review to see if the net was off its moorings, it was 1-1.

OT: Just when it seemed like this game was destined for a second overtime, Jason Arnott snagged a Rangers clearing attempt with his glove at the blueline against the right boards, dropped the puck to the ice and passed it between the circles to Alex Semin. The Russian sniper did the rest, firing a missile past a helpless Lundqvist for the win.

What’s Next: Perspective will be key. The Rangers missed a great chance to seize control of this series early and raise the specter of past playoff failures for the Caps. But if you look at the big picture, as a No. 8 seed, you took the No. 1 seed to overtime in its barn, and for that you have to feel pretty good. And if the Blueshirts can capture Game 2, they'll still have home-ice advantage heading back to MSG on Sunday. The loss will still be bitter, but if they can knot the series at 1, then the road trip to Washington is a net win for the Boys in Blue.

Key factors vs. Capitals in Round 1

April, 11, 2011
4/11/11
9:17
AM ET
The playoffs start Wednesday for the New York Rangers when they take on the No. 1 seed in the East, the Washington Capitals at 7:30 p.m. in D.C. All told, the Rangers probably couldn’t have asked for a better first-round matchup. Here are several key factors to keep an eye on throughout the series.

Grind vs. Glitz

After the Caps spent the 2010-11 season remaking their image into that of a squad better suited for playoff success, the contrast between the playing styles of the two teams isn’t quite as stark. Still the Rangers’ grinding style presents a particular problem for a skill-based team like the Caps.

If the Rangers get into a shootout-style game with the Caps, the Blueshirts will likely be on the losing end. Washington’s offensive weapons simply outnumber New York’s. But, a blue-collar, hard-hitting game with little room to maneuver could be the ticket to a first-round upset.

Even more than the play of Henrik Lundqvist, I believe the make-or-break aspect of this series will be the Rangers’ forecheck. The Caps’ blueline has problems getting the puck out of its own end at times and with Dennis Wideman likely out for the first round (leg hematoma) and Mike Green not up to game speed (out with concussion since Feb. 25), Washington may need to rely on third-pairing D types John Erskine and Tyler Sloan more than they would like.

Also, keeping the puck deep in the Washington zone will require the Caps’ forwards to come back closer to their own net to help out, eliminating stretch passes and keeping one of the NHL’s best transition games grounded.

Hank the Tank

When these two teams met in the 2008-09 playoffs, Lundqvist nearly stole the first round from the Caps, pushing the series to seven games before a Sergei Fedorov blast from the glove-side faceoff circle provided the difference in a 2-1 game.

There was talk at the end of that series that Lundqvist’s glove wasn’t as quick as it normally was due to fatigue. And that year Lundqvist was only coming of seven consecutive starts. This season, he’s started three fewer games than 2008-09, but enters the playoffs having gotten the call in 26 straight since Feb. 11. That’s a career high for Lundqvist and even though he’s maintained that he wants to be playing and he doesn’t feel tired whenever he sits in front of his locker after games, you have to wonder if fatigue will be a factor.

The schedule could help though. The Rangers and Caps will get two days off between Games 3 and 4 and Games 4 and 5.

The Caps’ Kid Keepers

While the Rangers have no doubt who their netminder will be, for the Capitals’ it remains an open question. Washington’s trio of Michal Neuvirth, Semyon Varlamov and Braden Holtby has been very good for them this season. While Varlamov (.924) and Holtby (.934) have posted better save percentages, Neuvirth (.914) has seen more action this season and is expected to get the nod as the series opens. But I’m not sure how comfortable Bruce Boudreau is with that decision and the hook could be a quick one if Neuvirth gets torched early. Remember, Neuvirth was the goalie the Rangers burned for six goals on 28 shots the last time these clubs met. A few quick goals in Game 1 could create a crisis of confidence in the Caps’ crease, just like it did in 2008-09 when Jose Theodore got yanked for the series after giving up four goals in the first game.

Staal and Girardi vs. The Great 8

Bruce Boudreau will try to keep his top offensive threat away from the Rangers’ best blueline tandem, but frankly, he hasn’t done a very good job controlling matchups in the past. Oh, and Alex Ovechkin didn’t score a goal against the Rangers during the regular season. If Marc Staal and Dan Girardi can again keep him under wraps, the media will start talking, Ovechkin could start pressing and the pressure will start rising on a team that absolutely, positively cannot lose in the first round without major repercussions. More on that later.

Green Blue Liners

With Mike Green shelved for most of the season the Caps have had to rely on Karl Alzner and John Carlson as their top pairing this season. Never mind that they had just 237 games of combined experience. They have been very effective though, with Alzner sporting a plus-14 and Carlson at plus-21 despite seeing the opposition’s top scorers every night. They don’t fluster easily and they almost always make the simple play, which keeps them out of hot water. They don’t, however, clear the crease that well. If the Rangers can plant Brian Boyle or Brandon Prust in front of the cage to bother the Caps’ netminder, that could generate some chaos and lead to some dirty opportunities for the Blueshirts.

Pressure

Somebody cue Billy Joel. This is perhaps the single greatest advantage the Rangers will have this series. As I mentioned briefly after they clinched this berth, there are no more expectations for New York. They’re a young, improving team and against the top squad in the East there should be no expectations for an upset, particularly without Ryan Callahan. The Caps, on the other hand …

The scuttlebutt around the league is that it’s a Cup or a pink slip for Boudreau, so if his team should again falter in the first round he may not make it to the postgame press conference podium. If the Rangers can steal a game or two in D.C. they can trigger all sorts of mind games for their opponents, and when the opposition starts pressing against the Blueshirts, that’s when the Rangers are the most dangerous. Quick goals and early wins will go a long, long way in this series for both teams.

In closing, a few links for you:

Scott Burnside presents his series preview.

For ESPN Insiders, here's a scouting report on how to beat the Caps from former NHL scout and GM Craig Button.

The Washington Post chats with both teams about the upcoming series. It includes a bit about how the Rangers 7-0 pummeling of the Caps in December actually helped. (Apparently that's when the Caps learned how to grab their ... never mind.)

Blueshirt Banter provides a statistical preview.

Andrew Gross provides some quotes from a Chris Drury teleconference.

And here's another look at the series via Jesse Spector.

Rangers are back in playoffs

April, 9, 2011
4/09/11
9:44
PM ET
The Tampa Bay Lightning struck early and often in a 6-2 win over the Carolina Hurricanes, giving the Rangers possession of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Rangers' season will continue, though there may be a brief pause to scribble some thank you notes to the boys with the lightning bolts on their jerseys.

The Rangers will match-up against the Washington Capitals in the first round, with the first two games to be played in D.C. That's just fine by the Rangers though, as they've handled the Caps pretty well this season. In their last three meetings, the Rangers have outscored the Caps 14-1 en route to three victories.

Look for a larger breakdown on the series to come, but one thing to sweeten the dreams of Rangers fans tonight: The Blueshirts are now playing with house money. Nothing more is expected of them. Meanwhile, the Caps will be playing with the weight of the world (and an impatient owner who has put his team on the clock to win a Cup) as they look to avoid another early-round upset. That's an awfully nice combination if you're an underdog like the Rangers.

As the Philadelphia Flyers proved last season, just getting into the playoffs is a big hurdle. Once you're in, anything can happen. Now the fun starts.

Torts is no fan of the tie-breaker

April, 9, 2011
4/09/11
5:42
PM ET
And now ... they wait.

The locker room mood was upbeat in the wake of the Rangers' 5-2 victory over the New Jersey Devils in the regular season finale, but also anxious as the team waits for tonight's Carolina-Tampa Bay game. As has been mentioned countless times in the past two days, if the Canes win, they're in the playoffs ahead of the Rangers even though Carolina would only have 41 wins compared to New York's 44.

Vinny Prospal and John Torterella aren't exactly loving that fact.

"I don't get this," Prospal said, dressing up his confusion with some rather colorful language. "The other team doesn't have as many wins as us. So, if it's not going to count, what the [heck] is the shootout for?"

"I’m pissed off at the whole circumstance and I’ve kept my mouth shut," Tortorella said. "I understand we make our own bed, we had some inconsistency, especially at the end of the year we had some clunkers. That falls on us. But I just don’t get it. 44 wins to 41, maybe, and we’re going to be [out] when we should be in the playoffs."

Tortorella was a little more explicit with what the Rangers would be doing with their spare time, but I dressed it down a bit. It was Kids Day after all.

The Rangers coach was also rather emphatic that missing the playoffs would not diminish the team's season as a whole.

"I’ll tell you right now, I’m not going to be talked into. I’m not going to be talked at. I’m not going to listen to any bull[crap] about what kind of year this season was," Tortorella said. "There are too many good things that have happened with this club and we’re on the right road and we’re doing it the right way."

While he conceded that the team needs to increase its skill level to get where they want to be, presumably Stanley Cup contenders, he was firm in his belief that the team is going about the process the right way, noting the strong play of young players like Ryan McDonagh and Michael Sauer.

Take it to 'em, Tampa

While the prevailing thought is that the Lightning will rest its stars and mail in tonight's game against Carolina to prepare for the playoffs, Tortorella thinks otherwise.

"I know it's going to be handled the right way. That bodes well for the league and hopefully for us," he said, noting that he will not be watching the game.

When asked if there was "money on the board," an expression meaning that a strong performance will be rewarded with a cash incentive, Tortorella wryly replied: "Not cash ... " He was also asked if he or any of his players would try to get the word out to Tampa to play hard tonight. While NHL tampering rules come into play, Tortorella noted, mischievously, "There are always ways." Take that as you will.

"It's going to be tough," Drury said regarding watching tonight's game. "It's always hard, but at least we did our part. Now we're just going to have to sit and wait and watch."

"Our part"

As I wrote in the Rapid Reaction, 14 different Rangers had at least one point in today's game. And those who didn't get on the scoresheet were contributing in other ways, particularly Brian Boyle who was a one-man wrecking crew on the ice.

"We emptied the tank today," Boyle said. "Even when we were down 2-1 we were flying around, hitting everything we could. That was a fun game to be a part of. Blue collar, that's the way we had to play today and the way we have to play all the time."

Oh, Captain!

In his surprise return, Chris Drury might have scored the most important goal of the Rangers' season. And it certainly had the locker room buzzing afterward.

"He's worked extremely hard just to get back here," Prospal said. "Getting into playing shape isn't easy to do. He showed a lot of character coming back and I'm so glad he scored that goal because it shows what kind of person he is."

"I can't even explain what happened to the bench when Dru scored," Boyle said. "I'm so happy for the guy. He's our leader and he did exactly that tonight."

"I'm just happy to be part of it again," Drury said, noting that his 7:48 of ice time met his expectations for how much action he'd see today.

"That’s good stuff," Tortorella said, beaming. "I'm so happy for him. He catches more [crap] out there in all kinds of ways."

The goal was his first of an injury-plagued season in which he's played just 23 games and averaged 12 minutes per.

W2W4: Game 82

April, 9, 2011
4/09/11
8:17
AM ET
The opponent, the New Jersey Devils, almost doesn't matter. The Rangers need points any way they can get them. With Carolina's win last night it comes down to this: The Blueshirts need to finish the day with more points than the Canes.

Picking up a pair against the Devils would make for a nice start. Particularly considering a loss is regulation and the Rangers' season is over. Here's what to watch for in the Rangers' do-or-die finale.

Gaborik

Simply put, the season of Marian Gaborik has not matched expectations. Thursday, in a game that could be the decisive loss of the season, Gaborik found himself glued to the bench for much of the third period. Is he hurt? Or just not giving 100 percent in John Tortorella's eyes. His performance today should be telling and could be the start of a very interesting summer storyline if he again rides the pine in crunch time.

Deja Vu All Over Again

With last season's playoff fate decided in the shootout, the Rangers are taking no chances this season. Yesterday they recalled shootout ace Mats Zuccarello from Hartford. His five shootout goals this season tie him for fifth overall in that category, along with Erik Christensen. With four shootout goals on the season, Wojtek Wolski figures to round out the first three shooters for John Tortorella.

The Pursuit of Goals

Since a 2-1 shootout loss to Ottawa on March 22, the Rangers have averaged 1.57 goals per game. Against the Devils this season, the Rangers have averaged just over two goals per game (11 in five games). Today's afternoon game would sure be a good time for one of those huge goal-scoring outbursts they've enjoyed this season, like that afternoon game against Edmonton that they won 8-2.

W2W4: Penguins vs. Islanders

April, 8, 2011
4/08/11
3:33
PM ET
Perhaps a little overlooked while their local rival's desperately battle for the playoffs, the New York Islanders will tangle with the Pittsburgh Penguins for the first time since the brawl-filled, 9-3 Isles win at the Coliseum in February, a game that was only a trident away from a gladiator fight. So, what's on tap for the encore? Here are three things to watch for when the Pens skate at the Coliseum tonight.

Trevor Gillies

Whenever Gillies is on the ice, he bares watching Friday night. After a suspension-worthy hit against the Pens' Eric Tangradi -- who has not played since suffering the blow to the head on Feb. 11 -- Gillies figures to be a marked man. It's doubtful he'll be caught flat-footed however, as earlier in the week offered his take on Friday night's potential powder keg: "If the bell needs to be answered, we've got the guys to answer it."

Pens' Priorities

There's no way the Penguins have forgotten about the previous game, but playoff-bound Pittsburgh has far more at stake Friday night. First is playoff position, where they're currently chasing the Atlantic Division-leading Philadelphia Flyers -- and the automatic top-3 seed -- by a single point. Second, is health. The Penguins have already lost Evgeni Malkin for the season. It's looking less and less likely that Sidney Crosby will return this season after suffering a concussion. Do they really want to risk losing anyone else by inciting a fight-filled affair? We'll find out.

Rookie Look

Michael Grabner leads the Islanders with eight goals and 13 points since March 1. Will that be enough to earn him the Calder Trophy for the NHL's rookie of the year? It seems like San Jose Sharks rook Logan Couture is the odds-on favorite to win the award, but maybe a final flourish can sway some hearts and minds. Regardless, Grabner has been a stellar find for the Isles and joins a steadily improving core for next season.

Rapid Reaction: Thrashers 3, Rangers 0

April, 7, 2011
4/07/11
9:57
PM ET

Recap | Box score | Photos

What It Means

Thursday night a Southeast Division opponent came into MSG and, with a 3-0 win, the Atlanta Thrashers cast a big chill on the Rangers’ chances to keep playing spring hockey. New York's postseason hopes now all come down to Saturday against the New Jersey Devils.

Playing With Fire

And I mean the bad kind of fire. Rather than rocket out of the gates with the energy you'd expect from a team chasing a final playoff spot, the Rangers were outplayed for much of the first before finally yielding a pair of markers near the midway point of the second period. Though the Rangers had come close to notching a pair of goals themselves, including a Brian Boyle pipe-strike six minutes into the second, the Blueshirts’ deficit could have been much greater if not for some acrobatic saves by Henrik Lundqvist. A toe save to halt an Evander Kane breakaway at the end of the first period was the most notable among the clutch stops.

Burned

Former Islander (double burn) Rob Schremp beat Lundqvist over his right shoulder for the Thrashers’ first goal at 7:42 of the second period. A mere, 15 seconds later, the Thrash lit the lamp again when Andrew Ladd broke into the zone untouched and slid a shot through Lundqvist to turn up the heat on the Rangers. For the second consecutive game, the Rangers faced a multi-goal deficit in a must-have game.

Lucky For Lundqvist

As mentioned above, the Rangers would have faced a much, much deeper hole if not for Lundqvist. Through two periods he had recorded 18 saves. At least a third of them fell into the highlight reel category. In addition to turning away Kane’s breakaway, Lundqvist robbed Dustin Byfuglien with a lightning-quick glove save when the D-man was all alone at the left faceoff dot.

Rally For Cally

In addition to his leadership and energy, the biggest aspects the Rangers miss without Ryan Callahan is his ability to sustain a forecheck and his ability to stretch the defense with his speed down the wing. Safe to say the Rangers sorely lacked both of those traits Thursday night. Seldom could the Rangers keep the puck in deep and even the speedy Marian Gaborik, who saw scant ice time in period three, couldn’t beat the Thrashers’ D to the outside.

Final Fantasy

The Thrashers eclipsed any hope of another stirring comeback at 4:19 in the third when a goal by Johnny Oduya pushed the margin to 3-0 in favor of Atlanta. The Rangers' energy level spiked after that strike but they still couldn't breach Thrasher goalie Ondrej Pavelec. The Atlanta keeper was solid, but never had to be spectacular en route to the shutout. The Rangers just couldn't muster many good chances and dreams of a rally died out slowly over the final 15 minutes.

What’s Next

For better or worse the Rangers’ postseason fate will be decided Saturday. It starts with a 12:30 p.m. showdown against the Devils, but the Carolina Hurricanes could have the final say if they can pull out a win against these same Thrashers on Friday night. That would pull the Canes even with the Blueshirts and make the Rangers wait for the outcome of Carolina’s Saturday night tilt with the Tampa Bay Lightning before knowing their future. After yielding control of their own destiny with a loss Thursday, one way or the other the Rangers will have to sit. And wait.

A Wednesday of waiting

April, 6, 2011
4/06/11
4:13
PM ET
After a brief stay in sixth place, the idle Rangers dropped back to eighth following wins by the Montreal Canadiens and Buffalo Sabres Tuesday night. All three teams have two games remaining in the regular season, with the Habs up two points on the Rangers and a single point on the Sabres. Montreal will hold the regulation wins tie-breaker over both teams with 40.

The only team left who can spoil a postseason spot for the Rangers is the Carolina Hurricanes who are in action Wednesday night against the Detroit Red Wings. With a game in hand, the Canes wouldn't be eliminated with a regulation loss, but it would allow the Rangers to clinch with just one point when they take the ice Thursday night against Atlanta.

As fans wait for the Rangers to return to action, they continue to stew about the injury to Ryan Callahan. It's certainly a bad blow for the Rangers, but postseason success isn't unthinkable with the wing on the shelf. When Callahan was out from Dec. 15 to Feb. 1, the Rangers posted a record of 10-7-2, including wins over the Washington Capitals and Vancouver Canucks. Will his absence hurt? Absolutely. But it's not as though Callahan provides the Rangers with a disproportionate amount of their goals. In fact there are four other Blueshirts within two markers of his goal total.

The Rangers can make up the loss of Callahan's offense. And while they'll miss Callahan's lead-by-example effort, I can't see head coach John Tortorella letting the team play with any less grit in his absence.

It's indisputable that New York loses a great player in Callahan, but any kind of playoff run was going to take a team effort anyway. If they're going to pull a first round upset it's likely to be because of solid defense, wall-like goaltending from Henrik Lundqvist and a persistent forecheck. None of those three elements are going anywhere. Callahan just won't be involved in the latter.

Rangers need to rebound. Soon.

April, 1, 2011
4/01/11
8:34
AM ET
What happened?

For the second straight game the Rangers came out flat. And for the second straight game they paid the price.

The rival New York Islanders pummeled the Blueshirts every which way Thursday night and made the morning of April Fool's Day a cruel one for Ranger fans.

The Isles were flying from the start, but the Rangers somehow managed to strike first on a slap shot by Vinny Prospal. Following a few Islander penalties, including some retaliation for Marian Gaborik checking Frans Nielsen headfirst in the boards, it seemed like the Islanders gave the Rangers every chance to put the game away early. But like it has so often of late, the Rangers' offense let them down and left the door open. A door the Islanders were all too happy to slam in their rivals' faces.

Defensively the Rangers gave Henrik Lundqvist little help in his personal-record 22nd consecutive start, and he paid the price by getting yanked after allowing the fourth of the Islanders' six goals.

After the game, Ryan Callahan called the effort unacceptable for this time of year (via Andrew Gross). You can call it extremely costly too. Depending the results of tomorrow's games, by the time the Rangers take the ice again on Sunday they may be clinging to eighth place by a single point over the Carolina Hurricanes. And while the Rangers battle the Philadelphia Flyers, the Canes will clash with the Buffalo Sabres, which, through the predictive power of Murphy's Law, will probably result in a three-point game that the Canes win.

The Flyers are still battling to lock up the No. 1 spot in the Eastern conference, leading the Washington Capitals by just one point. With home-ice on the line, it's doubtful the Bullies will pull any punches on the 3rd, metaphorical or literal. Safe to say the Rangers will need to up their intensity level or they'll risk yet another disappointing loss at the hands of a rival.

W2W4: Rangers vs. Islanders

March, 31, 2011
3/31/11
8:34
AM ET
Mama said there'd be days like this, but that doesn't make them any easier for fans of the Blueshirts. Here's a quick rundown of the bad news the Rangers endured in their 1-0 loss to the Buffalo Sabres.

" The Sabres have now matched the Rangers with 87 points and moved into a seventh-place tie.

" The Carolina Hurricanes waxed the Montreal Canadiens, 6-2, to close within three points of the Rangers/Sabres and the final playoff seed, while the loss means the Rangers missed a chance to tie the Habs in sixth.

" Henrik Lundqvist's strong, one-goal-allowed effort was squandered in his 21st consecutive start, a number that matches his career high.

It looks like it will be a grind indeed for the final playoff spots in the East and the Rangers' bitter rivals will not make it any easier on them Wednesday night. Here's what to watch for when the Blueshirts battle the New York Islanders.

E Is For 'Effort'

After Wednesday's loss, head coach John Tortorella called the Rangers' effort in the first two periods "unacceptable." They were outshot 12-3 to start the first and never really mounted any serious pressure against Buffalo backup Jhonas Enroth, who recorded his first career shutout while filling in for all-star Ryan Miller. After a few whip-cracks from Tortorella, expect a rededicated effort from the Rangers tonight.

Who Put Out the Red Light?

After a three-game stretch that saw the Rangers average over five goals per game -- a span that started with a six-goal night against the Islanders March 15 -- they have averaged under a goal per game through the last four contests. That's largely been the story this season for the Rangers; the faucet is either flooding the apartment or trickling down the drain. After looking like he was about to catch fire with five goals and an assist from March 9 through 20, Marian Gaborik has disappeared. With 11 other forwards on the ice every night, it might be unfair to lay the blame entirely at his skates, but $7.5 million per season tends to make you ask, "what's going on?" when a star isn't producing.

The Isles' Outage

The Rangers aren't the only team struggling to score, as the Isles tallied more than one goal for the first time in two games Wednesday night in a 3-2 loss to the Devils. The drought didn't seem to bother Frans Nielsen, who notched both of the Islander goals Wednesday. With a career high 13 goals and 44 points, combined with his defensive contributions (plus-14 on a team with a minus-32 goal differential), Nielsen might be the most underrated player in the NHL. And he's a steal for the Islanders too -- he will remain under contract for just $525K next season. Cha-ching! Party on, Garth.

Feeling a Draft

The Islanders' decent stretch run has been encouraging for a struggling franchise, but it may also end up hurting their draft position. With Florida in a free fall (six straight losses) the Islanders are now tied for the fifth pick in the draft, pending the outcome of the lottery. As we discussed a little while back in this blog, you play to win, but that doesn't change the fact that most NHL scouts see this draft class as four-deep with elite NHL prospects. After that the future gets a little murkier. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Sean Couturier and Gabriel Landeskog are the top forwards in the class, with Swedish D Adam Larsson as the top D. After that, Insider's Gare Joyce ranks centers Ryan Strome (Niagara - OHL) and Jonathan Huberdeau (Saint John - QMJHL) as the next two talents. Both are strong players and could develop to be better than the top four -- the draft is always a crap shoot -- but right now, scouts seem to be convinced there's a clear upper crust ... and the Islanders may just miss out.

Rangers rise up power rankings

March, 28, 2011
3/28/11
3:33
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The New York Rangers are on the rise in the latest edition of ESPN.com’s power rankings. The Blueshirts jumped from No. 16 last week to No. 12 today, the fifth-best team out of the Eastern Conference.

Meanwhile, on Insider's Player Power Rankings, NHL shutout leader Henrik Lundqvist checks in as the league’s No. 3 netminder, behind Boston’s Tim Thomas and Nashville’s Pekka Rinne. Those rankings are compiled by Tom Awad of Hockey Prospectus using their GVT valuation metric.

Much like a double rainbow, the meaning is relative and you can take these posts for what they’re worth. But still, it’s an awfully pretty sight for Rangers fans this late in the season.

The road ahead for Rangers, Devils

March, 16, 2011
3/16/11
4:17
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Six points.

After upping their most recent winning streak to three games, the New Jersey Devils are just six points away from the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. And they have a game in hand on the eighth place Buffalo Sabres.

It’s time to start wondering what exactly the April 9 between the Devils and the New York Rangers (eight points ahead, but with two more games played) might mean. That game marks the Rangers’ last of the regular season, while the Devils host the Boston Bruins a day later in the final game of their regular season.

But there’s still plenty of hockey left to play before then, and both teams are still walking a very fine line when it comes to cracking the postseason.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the schedules facing both teams, as well as their top playoff competition, leading up to the finales.

New Jersey Devils

Points: 70
Games remaining: 13
Road games remaining: 7
Playoff teams on remaining schedule: 9

Average points of remaining opponents: 80.3

New York Rangers

Points: 78
Games remaining: 11
Road games remaining: 5
Playoff teams on remaining schedule: 6

Average points of remaining opponents: 76.8

Buffalo Sabres

Points: 76
Games remaining: 12
Road game remaining: 5
Playoff teams on remaining schedule: 5

Average points of remaining opponents: 78.0

Carolina Hurricanes

Points: 74
Games remaining: 12
Road games remaining: 4
Playoff teams on remaining schedule: 7

Average points of remaining opponents: 77.6

Take this info for what it’s worth, which is essentially just a snapshot, but it certainly seems that when you combine the standings points, and the strength of remaining schedules that the Devils still have a lot of heavy lifting left. Meanwhile, the Rangers have the easiest road ahead. Just something to consider as we steam towards the finish line.

To win, or not to win?

March, 10, 2011
3/10/11
8:03
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The Islanders are playing some very solid hockey these days, a fact many attribute to head coach Jack Capuano and his simplified game style registering with this young team. In his blog the other day, ESPN’s E.J. Hradek stated he believes Capuano has done enough to merit the coaching gig on a permanent basis.

If that’s the case, then the Islanders are starting to take shape for the 2011-12 season ... and their current winning ways might be setting them back.

First, let's agree that the only thing that's holding the Islanders back from the Eastern Conference playoffs right now is talent. Recently, and for whatever reason, the Isles have only been able to acquire truly elite talent through the draft. The last truly established point producer they were able to bring in through free agency was probably Mark Streit. Whether it's antiquated facilities, the preference of players to join recent playoff teams or the unwillingness of ownership to spend money, the Islanders simply aren't getting talent rich by inking free agents. That makes the draft doubly important.

This season’s NHL draft is believed to be about four-deep with future all-stars -- centers Sean Couturier and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, defenseman Adam Larsson and winger Gabriel Landeskog. All four project to be future greats according to scouts and rate as the top four prospects according to ESPN’s rankings of the Top 50 prospects of 2011, published Tuesday.

Only trouble for the Islanders there is that, with Colorado and Florida in a free fall, the upswinging Isles may end up picking fifth. So it’s time for that classic question: Do you hope to lose to get a better draft pick? Or do you go Herm Edwards and play to win the game? Feel free to comment below.

W2W4: Rangers vs. Ducks

March, 9, 2011
3/09/11
8:52
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The Rangers are back in action on the West Coast Wednesday night, taking on the once Mighty, but still potent, Ducks of Anaheim. Here’s what to watch for as the playoff chase continues at The Pond.

Follow-Up Effort

Four times this season have the Rangers absolutely mashed an Eastern Conference team by six or more goals while also shutting them out. Following their first dismantling of the Washington Capitals, the Rangers kept the pedal down, posting a 4-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins. Since then, they’ve suffered some setbacks. After a 7-0 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs and a second 6-0 win against the Caps the Rangers dropped both of their next games, scoring a combined two goals in the two losses. Which will it be tonight?

Lucky 13?

Henrik Lundqvist, who could very well start the remainder of this season’s games with Marty Biron on the shelf, will likely get his 13th consecutive start Wednesday night for the Rangers. If the fatigue is catching up with him, he’s had a funny way of showing it so far. The Rangers netminder allowed just one goal on 53 shots across the past two games.

Ducky D

There was a time this season when the Ducks D was about as air tight as Central Park, but lately they’ve shored up the shots-against department. Despite averaging 32.5 shots from opponents per-game on the season, the fourth-highest mark in the NHL, Anaheim has allowed teams more than 30 shots just once in the last eight games. They’ve averaged 24.1 shots against over that span, including just 16 to the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday. Of course, the Ducks lost to the Canucks and have still struggled at actually preventing goals with star G Jonas Hiller sidelined. Former Tampa Bay Lightning netminder Dan Ellis has started the last five games for Anaheim, posting a save percentage of .885 or lower his past two starts.

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