RALEIGH, NC – With just over a week to go in the NHL season, the Rangers are healthy and should be fine-tuning their play to make another deep playoff push. But last night’s capitulation in North Carolina shows how weak the underbelly of this team is. New York has not responded well in these gut-check types of games. They haven’t been able to gut-out the dirty win when the entire team isn’t clicking. They will have to fix this going into the playoffs. Is Alain Vigneault The Reason?
While Viggy led the Blueshirts to the Stanley Cup Final a couple of seasons ago, the spirit of the team was instilled by AV’s predecessor, John Tortorella, is missing. Now, I’m not suggesting that the Rangers were better under Tortorella but it should be clear to everyone that a fighting spirit existed under Torts that seems to have vanished under Vigs. And while the latter’s system has led to some attractive and effective hockey, the team seems lost when they run up against physical play. Moreover, the Rangers tend to sleepwalk through some games, like last night in Raleigh.
The Broadway Blues need to strike a balance between Vigneault’s champagne hockey and the gritty brand of hockey that can steal a game in the playoffs. In last year’s Eastern Conference Final Game 7 against the Lightning, we saw what happens when the scorers aren’t scoring and there’s no plan B.
As things stand now, the Rangers would play the red-hot Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round, with the Pens having home ice. If the Rangers don’t pick up their play, they may end up in the first Wild Card spot and have to travel to one of the Florida teams. That would probably be favorable for my blood pressure, as Sidney Crosby & Co are dangerous and hot at the right time. And they’ve done so without Evgeni Malkin, who is out injured. After starting out the season so poorly,
Titsburgh Pittsburgh are – unfortunately – poised to make a run at the Stanley Cup.
This spells bad news for the Rangers in the first round. Rick Nash and Eric Staal will need to improve their play heading into the playoffs. But it looks like both are moving in the right direction. Chris Kreider has been better as well, but he needs to improve his consistency. With five games left to sort out their issues, look for a response tomorrow night against dopey DJ Eberle’s perennially rebuilding Buffalo Sabres, who are looking to play spoiler – again.
The general playoff picture is becoming more clear. The Washington Capitals, who wrapped up the President’s Trophy sometime around their third preseason game have been coasting towards the finish line. As it stands, they would face the Flyers, who looked dead and buried two months ago. That would be a stern challenge for Washington, who need to wake up this final week.
Oh, and the Detroit Red Wings are on the outside looking in, likely ceasing their unbelievable 24-year run of making the playoffs. But all good things must come to an end but hey, they’ll be hitting the links early this year.
I’m predicting my Rangers will lose in the first round, the Penguins will win it all and that Junoir Blaber cite his busy week as the reason he was 8 hours past his column deadline… again.
I hope I’m wrong.