New York Hockey: Stanley Cup playoffs
So this goes beyond tonight's game against the Carolina Hurricanes. Isles fans will also have to keep a keen eye on a huge game between the Washington Capitals and Winnipeg Jets in D.C.
The team's magic number is three, which means that the Isles will need either a win and a Jets loss (any kind) OR an overtime/shootout loss (one point gained) and a Jets regulation loss (two points surrendered).
The only team not currently among the top eight that could potentially knock the Isles out of a playoff spot right now is the Jets, though the Isles own a game in hand. The Jets have 22 non-shootout wins, though, while the Isles have only 20.
So suffice it to say that tonight's action is critical with a potential playoff-clinching possibility on the horizon for the Isles.
What we don’t know is whether the No. 1 overall seed would produce the most favorable first-round matchup for the Rangers.
Based on this season’s head-to-head meetings, you don’t see the kind of lopsided results you’d expect in a No. 1 vs. No. 8 series. Here’s a look at how the Rangers have fared against the three most likely No. 8 seeds in the East.
Obviously this is only a very basic overview, but a plus-1 goal differential doesn’t really seem to signal a walkover first-round matchup. Not to mention the fact that the Sabres have been red-hot of late and have a far better goalie than either the Sens or Caps could boast.
But the above chart assumes the Rangers will claim the top seed. What if they were to be passed by the Pens or -- far less likely -- the Philadelphia Flyers? How would the Blueshirts stack up in a No. 4-5 matchup instead?
This season the Flyers have been the bug to the Rangers’ windshield. At every turn it feels like the Blueshirts have outplayed the boys from Broad Street and these numbers seem to suggest more of the same in the postseason. Or do they?
It was just a year ago that New York completely dominated Washington during the regular season. But the Rangers’ 3-1-0 record and plus-11 differential over the Caps didn’t mean much when Alex Ovechkin and Co. easily discarded the Blueshirts in the first round.
With that in mind, you can start to see why NHL coaches don’t really worry about who they’ll face in the first round of the playoffs. In short, it’s an entirely different game. Injuries (like Ryan Callahan’s unavailability last season) and momentum can mean far more than a random game played in January. What might be more significant is home ice, particularly when it comes to a potential series against the Caps, Sabres or Pens. Respectively, those teams are nine, seven and six regulation losses worse on the road than when they skate in their home barn.
Grabbing the No. 1 seed and home ice throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs could be a big boost for the Rangers. And thanks to the help of the rival New York Islanders taking down the Pens, that outcome is looking more and more likely.
Recap | Box score | Photos
The New York Rangers surged to a strong first period, but couldn't score and couldn't come up with a key road win in Game 2 of their playoff series against the Washington Capitals. Here's how it all went down at Verizon Center Friday night.
What It Means: The 2-0 series deficit is troubling, but not completely damning. More concerning is the Rangers' inability to mount much in the way of consistent offense against a stalwart Caps defense. The pressure is certainly on now for the Rangers to score, and win, when they return to the Garden. If they can’t win Sunday and Wednesday, Washington will head back to D.C. with a chance to clinch the series. If the Rangers don't win either, well, I think you know what happens then.
Start Me Up: The Rangers jumped out on the Caps and outshot them 13-7 in the first period. They also outhit them 18-11 and on every shift it seemed the Rangers were showing physicality and snarl. It was the ideal first period for a team on the road, except for one thing -- the first 20 minutes ended 0-0.
Well That Was Fast: After a strike from Jason Chimera at 2:11 of the second period to open the scoring, Ryan McDonagh got clipped for a minor penalty after flattening Boyd Gordon after the whistle during a crease-top scrum. The Caps took advantage after a deflected shot from Mike Green caromed straight to Jason Arnott in the slot who hammered it into a gaping net for the PPG. The two goals proved more than enough for Washington.
The Caps really throttled the Rangers in the second, limiting New York to only three shots on goal, despite a power play to close out the period. Trailing 2-0, it was not a pretty picture entering the third period and it didn't get any prettier as the Rangers mustered just six more shots on goal for the game, though they had a few decent chances late.
The Final Push: Around the 12-minute mark in third, the Rangers found their stride again and generated some sustained offense and, if not for John Erskine's shin pads, would have scored. Brian Boyle and Brandon Prust were effective again, this time joined by a lively Sean Avery. But the simple fact was that scoring chances were rare for the Rangers. The Caps have played sound defensive hockey in this series thus far, limiting turnovers and clearing their own zone very effectively. With Michal Neuvirth coming up big when he had to, such as when Marian Gaborik was stoned on a solid scoring chance with 9 minutes remaining in the third, the Caps just didn’t give an inch Friday night.
Man Advantage? The Caps did have the second best PK in the NHL this season, but the Rangers' power play is really scuffling. Coming up dry, again, Friday night the Blueshirts are now 1 for their last 31 chances against shorthanded opponents.
What’s Next: The Rangers head home with the series at 2-0 in the Caps’ favor entering Game 3. The action resumes Sunday at 3 p.m. The Rangers will need to find a way, any way, to put some points on the board. Their top offensive players have been pretty quiet, though Gaborik again created some good chances, but again couldn’t convert. Brandon Dubinsky couldn't seem to generate much during his time on the ice either. That has to change if the Rangers want to extend their season. While everyone will need to step up this weekend, the Rangers really need their best players to be their best players.
Last year the New York Rangers let it slip through their fingers -- a shootout loss to the rival Philadelphia Flyers and a summer to sit and stew.
This year was different.
Not that they didn't sweat it out. As a matter of fact, they took the long road and put their fans through hell.
After a 3-0 loss to the Thrashers on Thursday, it looked like it was all happening again. Then fans almost needed a doctor after falling behind 2-1 after one against the Devils on Saturday afternoon.
But in the end, thanks to a stellar final two periods versus Jersey and a Lightning win in Carolina, the Rangers are in the playoffs as a scary team to play.
Forgotten now are the losses to the Islanders, Senators and Thrashers. Brushed aside are the struggles at home, the ups and downs of the power play, the lack of consistent offense and the games lost to injury.
It may not have come down to the last day if Marian Gaborik and Vinny Prospal hadn't missed a collective 73 games.
What doesn't kill you makes you stronger. This team took every punch all season. It was pushed by its coach every day and is better for it.
Some may say that the Rangers backed in thanks to the Hurricanes' loss to the Lightning. But when you watched this team all year, you saw how hard the Rangers worked. They didn't back in. They kicked the door down.
The Blueshirts went against their recent history. Instead of signing vets and trading prospects for hired guns, they went young. They gave major minutes to Derek Stepan, Michael Sauer, Ryan McDonaugh and Mats Zuccarello. It paid off. In other years, it would have failed.
No matter what happens in the playoffs, what all those kids went through and will go through will prepare them for the future. The future has not looked this bright in a long time.
Also don't forget about the return of Chris Drury on Saturday. How big was that goal to tie the game? He's got a knack for big goals and returns just in time for the playoffs.
We have a few days to break down how the Rangers match up with the Caps. For now, Rangers fans -- enjoy. Last year is now a distant memory.