You can beat it to death, say it over and over again like a broken record, but the moniker “trap game” could be labeled for the Rangers’ match up with the Florida Panthers tonight. With the playoffs growing nearer each day, the pressure and intensity in each game ramps up to unimaginable levels in order to secure 2 points in the standings and, as coach Tortorella quipped after the Rangers come-from-behind victory on Sunday against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Rangers must put the pedal to the metal.
I’m sure Rangers fans are aware of their team’s tendency to “play to the level” of their opponents. The Rangers can go out there and hang with the league’s elite one night and take 2 steps backwards the next night against an inferior opponent. Thankfully, it hasn’t occurred as much as in seasons’ past as the Rangers have solidified themselves this season has a never-quit, grind-it-out hockey club.
Looking at their opponents, New York hasn’t fared well against the SouthLeast Division this season, owning a 7-9-2 record against those teams and the Panthers are no slouch of a team. Despite being 29-33-10 and on the periphery of the playoffs, they still have great young talent like David Booth, Keaton Ellerby and Evgeny Dadonov and play hard. This season, the Rangers only sport a 1-2 record against the Panthers, trading 3-0 shutouts down in Florida and losing a winnable game 4-3 on January 25th in their only match up at MSG thus far.
If the Rangers want to ensure the Stanley Cup Playoffs are more than just a pipe dream, they need 2 victories against the Panthers and Thrashers. Every game for the past 2 weeks has felt like a playoff game to the Rangers, but 2 victories on home ice before a crucial 4-game road trip will go a long way for the Blueshirts’ playoff hopes.