The teams sitting atop the Eastern Conference such as Philadelphia, Boston, Washington have all clinched playoff berths and are awaiting the regular season to end to determine who their 1st round matchup will be. Are any of those teams worried about having to play the Rangers? If they’re smart, they should be.
Not only are the Rangers on their annual march to the playoffs (8-1-1 in the last 10 games, 17 out of 20 possible points), they are healthy and confident. And that confidence starts from the net out. Since suffering his neck injury by the hands of Beniot Pouliot in the Canadiens game, Lundqvist has taken coach Tortorella’s “challenge” to play and run with it.
Granted, he wasn’t playing like a slouch before that particular game. However, it seems Lundqvist’s play has been invigorated since and its contagious to his teammates. The effort the Rangers displayed in a 1-0 nail biter against a possible playoff matchup in the Boston Bruins was remarkable. The Rangers got back to what they do best; play hard and block shots. And in that 3rd period onslaught by Boston, the Blueshirts found a way to get their goalie his 11th shutout of the season and serious consideration for his 1st Vezina.
With that road win, the Rangers have 23 on the season, 1 shy of the mark they set in their Stanley Cup winning 1993-94 season when they had 24 wins. This doesn’t automatically seal a 5th Stanley Cup championship for New York. However, having that advantage of playing better on the road has helped other teams in the past have playoff success. Where ever the Rangers finish in the standings, they won’t have home-ice advantage. They don’t need it, their gritty, hard-nosed style suits their game on the road.
The playoffs are a different breed. It’s a different style of hockey. The games are intense, the passion to win is immense. Anything can happen (see Philly as an 8th seed make it all the way to the Finals). But, if the Rangers can go in playing their best hockey, have a goalie playing with the utmost confidence, and be a tough opponent to deal with on the road then the advantage goes to the Rangers. Whoever their 1st round opponent may be, whether its Boston, Washington, or Philadelphia, should not take the Rangers lightly.