The Road Ahead: Where Will the Rangers Finish?
With just a few short weeks remaining in the NHL regular season, the New York Rangers make their push towards the post-season, amongst a crowded Metropolitan Division and a pack of fierce local foes and former players hot on their trail.
WHERE WE STAND
The good news? If the playoffs started today, the Rangers would be in, their 74 points good for 2nd place in the Metropolitan Division. The newly created Met. Division has been a dog fight all year, however, and expects to be one right until the end. Columbus, Philadelphia, New Jersey and Washington are all hot on the Rangers tail, only four points separate the 2nd and 6th place teams. But with games against three of the four mentioned teams remaining, the Rangers have a chance to put some distance between themselves and their divisional foes, and propel themselves into the 2014 tournament for Lord Stanley’s Cup.
THE ROAD AHEAD
The silver lining, if you can consider it one, is that the Rangers are a combined 14-13 against the remaining teams on their schedule, a block that includes numerous games against divisional opponents as well as Western road trip late in the season that could have a serious impact on the Blueshirts playoff chances.
Starting tonight, the Rangers will travel to Minnesota to take on the Wild, a team that is fighting for a playoff spot itself in the West with 77 points. They’ll follow that up with part two of a back to back stretch, heading to Winnipeg to play the Jets on Friday night. The Rangers are a combined 1-1 against these two teams, and should come away with no less than three points on this road trip.
The boys in blue will come home this Sunday to play the perennial Western Conference powerhouse San Jose Sharks, then head to the road to take on Ottawa on 3/18, Columbus on 3/21 and New Jersey on 3/22. Ottawa is a team that’s faltered as of late, quickly fading out of playoff contention. The games against Columbus and New Jersey will no doubt be monumental and will carry serious playoff implications. If the Rangers can come away with at least four points, consider the trip a victory.
The Rangers then come home for a short two game stint against Phoenix and Philadelphia. The Coyotes are currently one point out of a playoff spot in the West and will need this game just as badly as the Rangers, who lost their first encounter in the desert earlier in the season. Historically, the Rangers have played extremely well against the Flyers, but sport a 1-2 record against Philadelphia this year. Considering the opponents, we’ll look for the Blueshirts to come away with at least three points here.
With that, the Rangers begin a lengthy four game trip out west to close out the month of March and begin the month of April. Fortunately for the Rangers, the hockey gods have not been kind to western Canada this year, and the situations in Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver can be described as nothing short of smoldering, mid-August dumpster fires. The Rangers would love to once again stick it to their former coach John Tortorella, in what could be his final days as the coach of the Canucks, and should accept no less than five points when coming back across the border.
The Rangers will play one game in Colorado on 4/3 before heading back East for a three game home-stand against Ottawa, Carolina and Buffalo. These could very well be classified as must-win games, and the Rangers are a combined 5-1 against these clubs. These will be the final regular season home games for the Blueshirts, and I expect a spirited effort from the boys because of it.
They’ll close the 2013-2014 regular season in Montreal, against a Canadiens team that, historically, they’ve not fared well against in Canada. Despite the addition on Thomas Vanek, Carey Price’s health remains a question, and if the Canadiens need to rely long term on Peter Budaj between the pipes, I feel good about the Rangers chances. Let’s not forget what happened last time these two teams met:
[su_youtube url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Refp_sCAUtI”]Game Seven Highlights – [/su_youtube]
FULL TILT FORECAST
So where does this leave our beloved boys in blue? I have them finishing with 94 points overall, which should be more than enough to keep them firmly locked in to the 2nd slot in the Metro Division. This would position them in a first round matchup against whoever claims the 3rd spot in the Metro, potentially Columbus or Philadelphia. In order to make the post-season and grab some much needed momentum along the way, the Rangers will need to beat the teams they are supposed to beat. Wins against the likes of Buffalo, Carolina, Calgary and Edmonton along the way are musts if the Rangers want to have any shot at raising the Stanley Cup this summer.