The Rangers have lost two of three, and looked exceptionally poor in those two losses. Sandwiched in between was one dominant performance over the Toronto Maple Leafs, but the playoff-bound Ottawa Senators and the woeful Montreal Canadiens took the Rangers to school, beating the Blueshirts by a combined score of 7-1. The Rangers were without Brandon Dubinsky for both games and without Ruslan Fedotenko for one, but injuries are no excuse in this league.
This week, the Rangers will have the Nashville Predators, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Boston Bruins. All three are playoff bound, with just Pittsburgh on the bubble. Each team has a different style of play that will test the Rangers.
True contenders win games in many different ways. It is something that the Rangers have done all year. They have outscored opponents in shootouts, they have shut down the opposition defensively in defensive battles, they have out-grinded the grinders, and they have out-hit the physical teams. Simply put, they have found a way to win games. This trait is a trait that their next three opponents share.
The Predators aren’t a high scoring team, and they are middle of the road defensively (per total goals for – 120 in 45 games). They just find ways to win by grinding it out and out hustling the opposition. It helps that they have two stud defensemen and a Vezina caliber goaltender as well, but that hasn’t shown itself on the stat line.
The Penguins are roughed up pretty badly, with just seven players that have played in at least 40 of their 44 games thus far. They have been without Sidney Crosby all year, and are currently without Jordan Staal. Through all that, they have found a way to win with James Neal carrying the brunt of the scoring responsibility. Unlike the Predators, the Penguins look to outscore opponents, and will climb back into the middle seeds once they get healthy.
The Bruins are just flat out awesome, and the best team in the NHL. They are the perfect NHL club right now, and something that the Rangers hope to be in the near future. However, the Rangers always play the Bruins tough, and they will need to be perfect in their own right to take down the best team in the NHL. The Bruins are capable of outscoring the Rangers in a shootout, out defending them in a defensive battle, and out grinding them in a physical game.
Three games. Three playoff teams. Three different styles. Three ways the Rangers can prove again that they are among the elite in the league. One chance to get back on track before what is essentially a week off.
But let’s remember, even if the Rangers play .500 hockey over their last 39 games, they still finish with 99 points and what will likely be a top-three seed.