By all accounts, tonight’s game against the Islanders appears to be a must win game. After all, the Rangers sit in eighth place in the East, two points behind the Islanders with a game in hand (and if they win, the tie breaker). The Jets sit in ninth place with the same 44 points that the Rangers have, but the Jets have played two more games than the Rangers. A single point in those two games separates the Rangers from the Jets. The presence of the Jets seems less of a threat than the Islanders.
And now tonight we have the Rangers on Long Island to face the Islanders, who are 8-1-1 in their past ten games, and riding this streak to their first playoff berth since 2007. The Rangers, who are 4-1-1 in their past six, are trying to just hold on to that eighth seed. Seeding seems irrelevant at this point. The only thing that seems to matter is two points. Keep winning, and you have nothing to worry about.
But therein lies the enigma of all this. Do the Rangers absolutely need to win this game to make the playoffs? Sure, it would certainly help, and also help them avoid the dreaded eight seed and a matchup with the Penguins in the first round. But the Rangers don’t NEED to win this game to make the playoffs. They need this game to put much-needed breathing room between them and the Jets.
Even if the Rangers lose today, the Jets are idle, thus the Rangers would still remain in the eighth seed. Out of the four teams with 44-46 points, three will make the playoffs. One of Washington or Winnipeg will make it as the Southeast Division winner, and then two others. The biggest thing for the Rangers is that they have games in hand on each of those teams.
A win tonight helps the Rangers playoff chances significantly, but a loss doesn’t kill the season. We said earlier that the Rangers needed to go about 6-3-1 in their last ten games to solidify a playoff berth. They are 1-1-0 right now, and have one of the easiest schedules in the league after tonight (no games against playoff bound teams).
Is tonight a must win? No, it is not. But tonight is a probably-should-win-to-help-ourselves-out-and-keep-the-fans-from-jumping-off-a-ledge type of game.