NHL Playoffs Peek: Injured Rangers Make Wild Card Hunt Interesting


NEW YORK, NY – With 15 games to play, the New York Rangers are now only two points out of the second Wild Card slot, currently occupied by the Islanders. It has been a steady climb for the Blueshirts, who have been aided by the lackluster play of the teams around them in the standings. Before last night’s win, NY had lost three games in a row on the heels of losing their net-minding phenom, Igor Shesterkin. But they have remained in the hunt, thanks to the Hurricanes’ current four-game slide and the Islanders gagging on fish sticks.

Last night’s 6-5 overtime win over the Washington Capitals put the Rangers’ strengths and weaknesses on full display. Mika Zibanejad scored five of the six goals for the Blueshirts and Artemi Panarin added three more assists to give him 61 helpers and 93 points for the season. The Rangers top two lines have carried the team while the third and fourth lines have been nonexistent. Defense has been a serious issue and goaltending in the absence of Shesterkin has been lackluster at best.

The Rangers got some good news early in the week announcing that Shesterkin might return to the lineup earlier than expected after fracturing a rib in a car accident. He’s been skating but has not returned to full practice yet. That could happen soon though. Chris Kreider won’t return to the lineup until just before the playoffs, should the Rangers make them. Kreider broke his foot blocking a shot last week and is set to miss 4-6 weeks. With only five weeks left to play, there won’t be any time to get Kreider ice time before the quest for the Cup. The Rangers play the dismal Devils tomorrow night. If everything goes their way, they could be even on points with the Islanders for the second playoff spot.

Henrik Lundqvist

The NHL announced earlier this week that the salary cap for next season will go up to between $84 and $88 million dollars. With the current cap at just over $81 million, the extra breathing room will certainly help the Broadway Blues, who have a lot of money already tied up next season. Even the low-end of the increase would soften the blow of the Kevin Shattenkirk buyout cap hit. And the Rangers may have to buy out Henrik Lundqvist for next season, unless he decides to retire. It’s pretty clear that the Rangers don’t see a way forward with Hank between the pipes. Lundqvist has played in one game over the last month or so, and gave up five goals to the Flyers last Sunday. It’s sad to see an icon who had been so good for so long lose his way. But there is hope for the future in Shesterkin.

If the Rangers make the right moves on draft day and bolster their defense and bottom six forwards during the offseason, then they could make a strong push into the playoffs next season. Time will tell, but I’m a lot more optimistic about this current Rangers team than I was a few weeks ago.

Speaking of optimism, come back tomorrow for Short Matt, who wrote here that the Mets will win the World Series.

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Different Matt is our cunning Cornell grad/rugby player. "Diff" joined us just after the switch from being "Mets only" to an all-sports stop. He's a Yankee fan; thus he was "different." Aside from the Yanks, he's a diehard NY Giants, NY Rangers and NY Knicks fan. He also likes long walks on the beach and cappuccinos and nearly died in Las Vegas.

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