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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The Musings: Can the Rangers contend long term?

Long term contention? Photo: Brad Penner, USA Today

Long term contention? Photo: Brad Penner, USA Today

The Rangers entertain the hapless Sabres tonight. A team with hopes of a deep playoff run should be winning tonight with ease so with that jinx behind us, let’s throw up a few Ranger based thoughts.

Let’s briefly address the ‘win now’ theory. Henrik Lundqvist is 32 and has a shiny new seven year deal. He hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down and with several examples of goalies playing to an elite level deep into their 30’s, there’s no reason to think Lundqvist can’t do the same.

The defense has a strong under-contract core (Staal, Girardi, McDonagh and Klein) of which none are the wrong side of thirty. The forward corps (Nash and St Louis not considered) could feature six players in the top nine who have contributed to the Rangers this year (as presently constructed) that are all 26 or under and of which none have maxed out their potential – think Kreider, Hagelin, Stepan, Zuccarello, Brassard and JT Miller.

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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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Assessing the Rangers wingers, long term

Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images

Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images

While everyone who watches the Rangers with any regularity would agree that the Rangers need to address the center position in the near future, the Rangers have got a lot more talent on the wing than many will lead you to believe. It starts but certainly doesn’t end with the current roster.

With Rick Nash and Martin St Louis leading the club from the wing, there is plenty of veteran elite ability for next year. Greater contributions (and consistency) will be expected from Carl Hagelin and Chris Kreider. Both young wingers offer physical tools (speed and/or size) and the ability to score in bunches but Kreider at least, will be expected to take the next step after his promising rookie campaign this year. Hagelin is almost the perfect depth winger given his reliability in his own zone, ability to play on any line and an ability score close to 20 goals at the NHL level.

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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.