Rangers clinch #2 seed in Metro with win, Flyers loss

Photo by Scott Levy/NHLI via Getty Images

Photo by Scott Levy/NHLI via Getty Images

The Rangers will have home-ice in the first round of the playoffs, as the combination of their 2-1 win over Buffalo and Philly’s 4-2 loss to Tampa Bay sealed the deal for the #2 seed in the Metropolitan Division.  It took a while to solve fourth string goalie Matt Hackett, who played a great game, but the Rangers were able to crack him twice. Hackett finished the game with 28 saves. Across the ice, Henrik Lundqvist was the main reason why the Rangers won the game, making 23 pretty difficult saves for his 33rd win of the season.

The Rangers came out slow –again– in the first period, allowing a bad Buffalo team to walk all over them. But the Rangers absolutely dominated the second period, to the tune of an 18-2 Fenwick advantage at even strength. They got the tying goal with seconds left in the period, and got the winner with under two minutes to go in the game. It wasn’t pretty, but they got the big two points and the home-ice.

On to the goals:

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Game 81: Home finale against Buffalo

Frank Franklin II/AP

Frank Franklin II/AP

The Rangers play their final home game tonight, as the lowly Buffalo Sabres come to town. A win tonight can clinch at least a #3 seed in the Metropolitan Division, ensuring the Rangers avoid the Penguins until the second round, and the Bruins until the Conference Finals. The Rangers can clinch the #2 seed and home ice against the Flyers in the first round with a win and a loss by the Flyers in regulation in Tampa Bay.

Ted Nolan has the Sabres running a 1-2-2 forechecking system and try to shut down the middle of the ice. For the defensive zone system, he has them playing the low-zone collapse pretty much exclusively. On special teams, the Sabres run an umbrella power play and a wedge+1 penalty kill.

Rangers Lineup:

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Raphael Diaz filling in nicely as injury replacement

Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America)

Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America)

When the Rangers acquired Raphael Diaz for a 5th round pick, it was pegged as a depth move made by a team that needed a #7 defenseman pretty badly. We made the same assessment, but said not to sleep on that deal. Diaz was a solid contributor for Montreal and Vancouver, perhaps more-so than his numbers would indicate. The Rangers sorely needed an injury replacement, and the acquisition couldn’t have come at a better time.

It was three weeks following his acquisition that John Moore went down with an apparent concussion. When he was ready to return, Ryan McDonagh went down with a shoulder injury. Diaz has been in the lineup for nine straight games, notching a goal and an assist in the process. But it’s what he’s done away from the puck that has kept the blue line steady while their best defensemen has been sidelined.

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Rangers inch closer to home ice with win over Carolina

Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

The Rangers gained ground on both Columbus and Philly last night, beating Carolina by a score of 4-1. The Rangers came out a bit soft against the Canes, a bit of a repeat of their last matchup, but collected themselves and scored four straight en route to the victory. With the win, the Rangers have moved closer to clinching a non-wild card spot, as the magic number is now down to two. The magic number to clinch home ice against the Flyers in the first round is down to four.

The big guns for the Rangers showed up last night. Martin St. Louis had three assists, Brad Richards had two goals, and Derek Stepan had a goal and an assist. Even Rick Nash, who was held off the scoreboard, had some good looks, but couldn’t finish. But when the others are scoring, Nash just needs to draw the attention of the defense. He did that, and the Rangers took advantage.

On to the goals:

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Mats Zuccarello wins Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award

Just prior to tonight’s puck drop with Carolina, the Rangers held a ceremony to announce the winner of the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award. The Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award has been presented each season since 1987-88 to the Rangers player who goes above and beyond the normal call of duty, and is named in honor of paralyzed New York City police officer Steven McDonald.

This year’s winner was Mats Zuccarello, who has been the backbone of this team offensively and a bit of a troublemaker when he doesn’t have the puck. Former captain Ryan Callahan had won the award four of the previous five years.

Game 80: Secure a non-wild card spot

Photo: Star Ledger

Photo: Star Ledger

In case you missed it, the Rangers clinched a playoff spot last night when the Devils lost to the Flames. That doesn’t mean the remaining three games are meaningless, as the Rangers would probably like to avoid the wild card and a date with the Penguins or Bruins in the first round. With the magic number at four, they can actually clinch at least a #3 seed tonight if they win against Carolina and Columbus loses against Phoenix. After that, it’s just about home ice against the Flyers.

The Canes play a bit of a hybrid forechecking system. They play an aggressive 2-3 to start the game, but will switch to a trap late in the game with a lead. In the defensive zone , they run box + 1 system, which is a box setup in front with a player pressuring depending on the puck location. On special teams, the Canes run an umbrella powerplay and a hybrid  penalty kill (varies between the systems based on puck location).

Rangers Lineup:

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Lineup Changes: Fast with Richards, Hagelin

Per Andrew Gross, the Rangers have inserted Jesper Fast into the lineup on a line with Brad Richards and Carl Hagelin. This means Derek Stepan will be skating with Rick Nash and Martin St. Louis. The third and fourth lines will remain the same, with Dan Carcillo likely serving as the healthy scratch tonight. The full lines:

St. Louis-Stepan-Nash
Hagelin-Richards-Fast
Pouliot-Brassard-Zuccarello
Boyle-Moore-Dorsett

The defense pairings will be the same, and Henrik Lundvist will get the start in net.

Injury notes: Kreider, McDonagh skating

Per Andrew Gross, both Ryan McDonagh and Chris Kreider were skating today at the Rangers optional skate. Neither did intensive work, with McDonagh doing some light skating and Kreider gripping his stick with one hand, but it’s a good sign to see them skating. Alain Vigneault did not give a timetable for either’s return, but did mention he is unsure if he wants McDonagh to return before the playoffs. Naturally, Kreider needs to grip a stick with two hands before he returns.

There’s no need to rush either guy. There’s a week before the playoffs start, let them get that extra week.

Rangers clinch playoff spot with Devils loss last night

Some people will call this “backing into” the playoffs, but with the Devils loss last night, the Rangers have officially clinched a playoff spot. I say some people call it backing in because the Rangers still have three games left, so it’s not like they needed the loss. It just helped them clinch sooner. The magic number to clinch a non-wild card seed is down to four on Columbus. The magic number to clinch home ice against the Flyers in round one is still at six.

As long as the Rangers get a #2 or #3 seed, they will guarantee that they will not meet the Bruins until the Conference Finals. Since a first round matchup with the Flyers is all but guaranteed at this point, it appears the road to the Stanley Cup Finals will begin against Philly, then head to Pittsburgh in the second round, and then finally to Boston for the Conference Finals. That, of course, assumes wins by the favorites in each round.

Remember that horrible start? It seems like a distant memory. The Rangers crawled out of the cellar to be one of the hottest teams in the Eastern Conference heading into the playoffs. New York is also third in the conference in goal differential as well. This is a team that not many want to see in the postseason.

Debunking the “Vigneault doesn’t play the kids” myth

Photo: Getty Images

Photo: Getty Images

When Alain Vigneault had some choice comments for J.T. Miller following his demotion back to the AHL, after being given a golden opportunity to take a critical role for the Rangers, many fans called for AV’s head. The arguments thrown out had nothing to do with his successes as the coach this year, but that he has “never liked kids and refuses to play the kids.” It’s a silly argument actually.

Let’s use AV’s recent history –his stint with the Canucks– as the barometer for playing the kids. He started there as the head coach in 2006-2007. Since the 2004-2005 season never happened, I think it’s fair to start with the 2003 draft as our cutoff for our little experiment, seeing how many kids were drafted by and played for the Canucks under AV. Technically, I can use the 2001 draft since Kevin Bieksa (5th round of 2001 draft) didn’t play his first full season until 2006-2007. But, let’s use 2003 as the cutoff.

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