Friday, March 11, 2011

Playoffs Begin Now, Will The Rangers Rise To Moment Or Fall Short Again?

With Buffalo’s win last night in Boston the New York Rangers have fallen into eighth place in the Eastern Conference playoff race courtesy of the games played tiebreaker.  New York is still two points ahead of the Carolina Hurricanes, though the Hurricanes also possess two games in hand on the Rangers.  With those as the facts and the bitter taste remaining from the Anaheim performance there is a sense of panic amongst Rangers fans.  Is it really time to panic?  Not just yet, but the sense of urgency better be there with the team these last 13 games or they will be home watching along with us as the playoffs start.
Every team hits rough patches in the season.  The difference between those that survive the grind and those that don’t is how quickly they can stop the bleeding and right the ship.  Another key, especially under this playoff system is to find a way to get at least one point in games you might lose and the Rangers are doing an awful job of that.  The Rangers have 35 wins this season while Buffalo has 33 and Carolina only 31, but the Rangers have only gotten one point out of a game 4 times while Buffalo has done it 8 and Carolina 10.  Sometimes you just have to find a way to get one point.  Also under the new tiebreaker rules those wins do not mean the same thing they used to as shootout wins are removed from the equation so the Rangers have 28 wins in regulation/OT while Buffalo has 28 and Carolina 27.
Those facts do not help the Rangers cause in thinking about whether they will be able to maintain their current playoff spot.  Yesterday at Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun discussed the chase for the final two spots in the East and did not look to favorably on the Rangers chances of remaining inside the top eight.
Burnside: The Rangers have won just two of their past six games, and their offense comes in fits and starts even with Marian Gaborik back in the lineup. Buffalo looks like a good bet to settle into the seventh seed given games in hand and its current level of play, although the Sabres have a big tilt with Boston on Thursday night in Beantown. But the Rangers have to be concerned that their up and down play is going to open the door for one of those on-the-bubble teams to make a late push and snatch up that final playoff berth. Do you think the Rangers can hang on, my friend?

LeBrun: The Rangers concern me greatly. They've lost some confidence. Only three wins in their last 10, that's not going to cut it. I feel like they overachieved in the first half and now reality is settling in. But they're a better team than what they showed last night in Anaheim.
LeBrun is correct when he says that the Rangers, in the first half of the year, greatly overachieved and performed beyond their abilities. That's something that has been stated quite often here on the blog. But the play we have seen from this team as of late, in the games against the Ducks, Wild and Sabres, the Blueshirts have been playing below their abilities. They may have been overpowered in the tilt with Anaheim, but there is no reason that they couldn't have made that a closer contest.

Burnside: As the games dwindle, this is where you see teams start to knuckle. Sometimes it's injuries, but in the case of the Rangers, I think they have to work so hard for every point that at some point the tank dries up. That's why Gaborik and Henrik Lundqvist are so important to keeping them afloat. They will need to be better.
Both are right in talking about the Rangers have lowered their level and gone from overachievers in the first half to underachievers in the second half and part of that is the fact that they have gone from a team that outworked their opponents over the course of a game to a team that is content with constantly trying to come back in the third period.  In the first half of the year they were finding a way to get those late goals and comeback wins that they cannot manage to secure now.  Their stars must be better and more importantly their effort has to get back to where it was before.  In the words of Dennis Green, “they are who we thought they were,” and with that we knew that this season was going to come down to the wire in terms of getting in or being left out of the playoffs and now there are 13 games to decide their fate.  Regardless of the outcome there is hope for the future, but this final month will tell a lot about the leadership in that locker room.