Lineup notes: Boyle with Richards and St. Louis

Per Andrew Gross, coach Alain Vigneault has switched up the lines a bit headed into a potential clincher against Ottawa:

Carl Hagelin-Derek Stepan-Rick Nash
Brian Boyle-Brad Richards-Martin St. Louis
Benoit Pouliot-Derick Brassard-Mats Zuccarello
Dan Carcillo-Dominic Moore-Derek Dorsett

Ryan McDonagh is also out tonight, so the defensive pairings will remain the same.

Magic numbers and the importance of clinching early

Six points in three games please.

Six points in three games please.

With Columbus’s loss to Chicago last night, the Rangers magic number to clinch a non-wild card playoff spot is down to just four. The magic number to clinch a playoff spot is one (meaning they can clinch tonight as long as the game gets to overtime). The magic number to clinch home-ice against the Flyers is seven. With five games remaining, the Rangers are all but guaranteed two of these, but home-ice will take a few days to clinch.

The Rangers have three gimme’s of their four remaining games: Three home games against Ottawa, Carolina, and Buffalo. Those are three games where they should gain six points, assuming they don’t throw in the towel like they did the last time they played against Carolina. Those six points are pretty crucial for the playoffs. It guarantees them a non-wild card playoff spot, and –at the very least– gets them to one point of home-ice in the first round.

Why is all this important?

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Alain Vigneault gives J.T. Miller some tough love

It’s just tough love.

There’s a specific reason why I waited a little bit to address the comments Alain Vigneault made about J.T. Miller yesterday. First, there was a ton of over reaction from the majority of the fan base, and we wanted to let that subside. Second, I wanted to let the comments settle in before I addressed them. If you missed the comments, AV called out Miller’s work ethic and commitment:

“He just hasn’t earned the right to be at this level on a regular basis,” Vigneault said, hours before the Rangers-Avalanche match. “He needs to show more commitment on the ice and off. Until he does that, he hasn’t earned the right.”

“J.T. has to figure it out, and hopefully he will,” Vigneault said. “When he does, we’re going to have a good player. If he doesn’t, he will be a good minor league player.”

Let’s not sugar coat this, these words are a clear message to the former first round pick. You have to work hard on and off the ice to succeed at this level. It’s a lesson that all kids must learn. But that’s just it, a lesson.

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Rangers blow late lead, fall in shootout to Avs

I thought this was a cool picture (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

I thought this was a cool picture (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

The Rangers gave up a one-goal lead with less than a minute remaining in regulation before losing in the shootout by a score of 3-2. Colorado coach Patrick Roy pulled goaltender Semyon Varlamov with two minutes left,  and the gamble paid off as the Avs. The Rangers played a very strong game for the first 43 minutes of the game, but they also played a bit of a prevent defense in the third period, registering just three shot attempts in the final 17 minutes of the third period.

Henrik Lundqvist stopped 35 Colorado shots, including 15 in the third period as the Avs tried to tie the game. He couldn’t stop them all, and got zero offensive support once the Avs tilted the ice in their favor in the third period. But hey, they got a point, and that’s all that matters.

On to the goals:

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Game 78: Staying hot in Colorado as the playoffs approach

Photo by Scott Levy/NHLI via Getty Images

Photo by Scott Levy/NHLI via Getty Images

The Rangers are in Denver tonight to take on the Colorado Avalance, who have recently passed the Chicago Blackhawks for second in the Central Division. The Avs are playing for home ice against the Hawks in the first round, while the Rangers are playing to keep the distance between them and the Flyers at three points. The Rangers beat the Avs once, and are fully capable of doing it again, even without Ryan McDonagh. If you’re scoreboard watching, the Flyers and Blue Jackets face each other tonight as well.

On the ice, the Avs run a very aggressive style of play. On the forecheck it is a straight 2-1-2 without sitting on leads. In the defensive zone, the Avs play straight man-on-man, so expect a lot of pressure and rushed/hurried decisions. On special teams, the Avs run a 1-3-1 power play and a hybrid penalty kill with very active defensemen.

Rangers Lineup:

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McDonagh out and day to day, Moore in tonight

Per Andrew Gross, defenseman Ryan McDonagh is out tonight and is day-to-day after being on the receiving end of a questionable hit –that received no supplemental discipline– from Alex Burrows. John Moore, who has been out since March 21, will take McDonagh’s spot in the lineup.

Musings: The Rangers have contract headaches looming

Little man get paid big?

Little man get paid big?

Yes, I know Dave gave you a Musings this morning. Whatever. You’re being spoiled today with two. As the Rangers close in on a playoff spot, form, health and special teams become so incredibly important at this time of the year. With the Avalanche on tap this evening, let’s have a muse for the second time today.

It’s nice to see the Captain (the real captain) holds no apparent bitterness toward the Rangers following his coaching snub last summer. Mark Messier says the Rangers have a chance at the Cup and, if they avoid the Bruins, there’s no reason to think they can’t go far if health and form holds up.

That said, the Rangers cannot go far in the post season without a better powerplay and consistency from Nash, St Louis, Richards – in that order. The defense will keep this team in games, Henrik Lundqvist will steal games but the offense needs to spot the King a lead or two. Stating the obvious?

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Wolf Pack sign defenseman Justin Baker to ATO

One day after adding Chris McCarthy to an ATO for the remainder of the season, the Wolf Pack have signed defenseman Justin Baker to an ATO. Baker, a 6’2″, 190-lb defenseman out of St. Lawrence University of the ECAC, is coming off a year where he was tied for the team lead in points with a line of 9-24-33 in 38 games. Over his four year career, the undrafted free agent has put together a line of 19-63-82 in 143 games.

Random thoughts as the playoffs approach

Photo: Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

Photo: Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

As the playoffs approach, the Rangers have been one of the hotter teams of late, winning eight of ten games to solidify their spot in the playoffs. With five games remaining, their magic number to clinch a spot is three, while the magic number to clinch a non-wild card spot is down to seven. It seems almost a guarantee that the Rangers will make the playoffs.

The Rangers will go as far as Henrik Lundqvist takes them. They have the best goaltending in the Eastern Conference, and a hot Hank will spell doom for most of the opposition. Hank has shown he can steal a playoff series, mainly against Washington, and will likely need to do so at least once this year. The best part is that –Calgary clunker aside– Hank is playing some of his better hockey of late. When the All-World caliber goalie is starting to get hot, it’s a good sign.

As important as Hank is, injuries will play a significant role again. The Rangers are already having trouble replacing Chris Kreider in the lineup, with Dan Carcillo getting top-six minutes. J.T. Miller isn’t ready for The Show yet, and there aren’t many options in Hartford that appear ready. If Ryan McDonagh is out for an extended period of time, that means Justin Falk is getting 10-12 minutes a game. The injury depth isn’t there.

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J.T. Miller returned to Hartford

The Rangers have returned forward J.T. Miller to the Hartford Wolf Pack of the AHL. Miller was called up after the injury to Chris Kreider, going scoreless in the first two games following his call up. Miller was a healthy scratch the previous two games before his return to Hartford.