(Neil Miller/Sportsday Wire)
Can we all agree that Apollo 13 is a really good movie? If you ask New York Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault he’d agree with that statement. He watched that movie a few times coming into the 2015-2016 season and adopted the famous quote of Ed Harris’ “failure is not an option”. When you look at the previous two games the Rangers have played against the Hurricanes and Sabers it seemed failure was an option.
The Blueshirts had two opportunities to clinch a playoff birth and failed to do so twice. Four points flushed out the window and home ice advantage along with it in the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Pittsburgh Penguins who have been playing phenomenal under new coach Mike Sullivan have stormed their way to second place in the Metropolitan division. In all likelihood, that’s whom the Rangers would be playing if they can hold on to the third spot. The difference is though; they wouldn’t be home for a possible game seven if needed; a game they have had statistical success in.
Let’s say the Rangers right the ship in the final games of the season and wrap up the playoff spot and get that first check mark. They would play the aforementioned Penguins who are a totally different team from the team they played in last year’s playoff match-up that had the Rangers winning in five games. Are they ready to play a red-hot penguins team? They would be but it would be tough.
Let’s face the fact the Rangers lack the speed they had last year due in part of trading Carl Hagelin who now plays for those pesky penguins. Sidney Crosby is still Sidney Crosby but they are missing two key players, Evgeni Malkin and net minder Marc-Andre Fleury. That doesn’t seem to matter to this team who have won six games in a row and nine of their last ten. It would be a tall task for the Rangers indeed. They are playing bad hockey at the wrong time. They entered their contest against the Blue Jackets 4-4-2 in their last ten games.
About that home ice advantage the Rangers are failing to get could pay dividends for a team that were once known as road warriors. This season the Rangers stand just one game above .500 on the road. Home ice is everything when it comes to the playoffs, just ask the Rangers – oh wait – well you could ask them about the previous two years about that. Could it be they are tired? Perhaps. When the Rangers went on that tremendous tear to start the season that seems so long ago everything felt right. Offense was clicking; defense was it’s usual self.
Then came the two plus month hiccup. Forget that, we need to look at the now. There was a point over the last two months the Rangers identity went missing. Holding a lead seemed nearly impossible. Then things turned around briefly. Normal for the Rangers faithful set in and you weren’t so worried about a late lead vanishing. Then came a well needed three days off before the Hurricanes and the push for the playoffs. Two stinkers later have many questioning whether this team is ready for the playoffs.
Look, the Rangers are no strangers to the postseason having played a lot of hockey over the last four years. That’s why they would be just fine going into the playoffs. It seems as if they turn this magical switch on and they play shutdown hockey and not to mention the ungodly nature that Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist becomes when crunch time comes. Yea he does have trouble making the big save when it counts but he’s the reason the Rangers are anywhere near the playoffs.
The hockey playoffs are one of the most grueling to get through and the Rangers have been built to play them so they will be ready to play once it begins – we hope so.