Marcel Hossa

Rangers Rolling As Playoffs Near

by Dan DiOrio

Last season the Rangers started out magically and carried it all the way through till the Olympic break.  However as the games got more important the Rangers seemed to keep fading.  The official start of the collapse last year was Saturday March 3, 2006.  That date marks a tough fought 2-1 loss to their rivals across the Hudson, The New Jersey Devils.  That game sent the team in a spiral losing 6 straight games.  The Rangers struggles continued as they finished the month of March with a 6-6-4 record.  The losing did not stop there, they finished off the regular season with a 3-5-0 record in April ultimately losing the division title.  Even though they made the playoffs for the first time since 1997, they were erased from the playoffs in the blink of an eye, ending another season in which the Rangers fans would go into the summer disappointed.

This season has been almost the polar opposite.  The Rangers have been plagued by inconsistency the first five months of the season.  The team had shown glimpses of greatness but could not with stain a high level of play.  Once the calendar turned to February, Glen Sather and company knew something had to be done if they were going to compete for a playoff spot.  The Rangers sent winger Jason Ward, prospect Marc-Andre Cliché, and Jan Marek to Los Angeles in exchange for arguably the most agitating player in the NHL today Sean Avery.  His first game in a Rangers sweater came against the Devils.  The Rangers entered the game on a 3 game losing streak, and would lose that one in overtime as well, however Avery notched an assist and the team looked re energized and ready for a playoff push.  That game started a 4 game stretch in which the Rangers cashed in on 7 of 8 possible points and they would not look back.  Since acquiring Avery to the roster the Rangers have been an impressive 14-4-5 which vaulted the Rangers from the low lives off 11th in the conference, to the 6th spot.

Avery may have been the catalyst, but he has not lead the resurgence alone.  Even with injuries to such key players as Brandon Shanahan, Fedor Tyutin, and the emerging star Marcel Hossa, the Rangers still continue to get better and better.  Key young players such as Ryan Callahan and Daniel Girardi are emerging as solid building blocks not only for the franchise’s future, but for a playoff run this year.  Callahan tied Nigel Dawes’s rookie record with 35 goals in Hartford this season but will not get a chance to break it now that he has emerged with the big club.  You can not ask for much more from a youngster than what Callahan has shown us so far, that finishing touch versus Boston where he netted his first 2 NHL goals, great vision against the Flyers setting up Avery’s second goal on the night, and Callahan not being afraid to throw his body around.  Girardi has been “Mr. Steady”, seeming always to be in the right place defensively and always making the good first pass to get the puck out of the zone.

Sure Avery has changed the mindset, and young players like Callahan and Girardi have emerged, yet the steady rock and the whole foundation of which this playoff run is built on is no other than Henrik Lundqvist.  Webster’s Dictionary does not have a word that could describe how fantastic the young Swede has played.  Since January 12 there is no question who the best goalie in the league has been, or in my opinion the MVP of the league.  Not even Martin Brodeur can boast a better GAA or save percentage as Lundqvist in that time frame.  Since the twelve of January, the Rangers have been 17-9-5 while only scoring more than 3 goals only 7 times in that 31 game stretch.  Lundqvist who started of this season very inconstant as most of the team had is now back into the form that had the Rangers fighting for a division title last year and that brought the Gold Medal to Stockholm last year.

This time last year the injuries came and hampered the Rangers at the end of the season, now it seems as though the injuries are vanishing as the playoffs come closer.  Shanahan made his return Wednesday against the Flyers, Fedor Tyutin should return within a week or two, and soon after that Marcel Hossa should enter back into the equation.  With the team already playing well, the return of these players could be exactly what they need to push them from a team getting to the playoffs, and a team going somewhere in the playoffs. As it stands today the Rangers magic number to clinch a playoff birth is 12 points.    Currently the Rangers sit in the 6th seed of the Eastern Conference, which would put them up against a good Atlanta Thrashers hockey club.  The bottom teams are still very tightly pack and the Rangers will have to keep up this type of play if they want to hold their ground and get to the Stanley cup playoffs.  Nevertheless out of the six teams fighting for the last three playoffs spots, the Rangers have the most confidence of any and are the one teams like the Sabers, Devils, Penguins, and Thrashers fear facing come playoff time.  The Rangers have all the makings of a team that is ready to make a big splash in the NHL playoffs.

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