It may be hyperbole, but the New York Rangers are playing a game tonight that could determine their playoff future.
Tonight’s contest with the Carolina Hurricanes could determine how New York Rangers General Manager Jeff Gorton charts the course for the team’s future. It’s much more than a matter of where the team will be in the standings after the game is over. It’s how they respond to the challenge of playing a road game against a key playoff rival.
The Hurricanes need to win this game as much as the Rangers. They are in the final wild card spot, but it is a precarious hold on that position. They have the same number of points as the New York Islanders, but own the regulation wins tie breaker.
They have also played the same number of games as the Blueshirts and are only six points ahead. Believe it or not, a Ranger win tonight combined with a loss by the Islanders would leave the upstart Rangers only four points out of the postseason.
Could those four points pursuade Jeff Gorton to hold on keep the current team intact or is he still going to go for a cornucopia of assets at the trade deadline? Smart money is on Gorton still trading Chris Kreider and another other trade-able assets so long as the return is rich enough.
That thought process makes sense for one simple reason. As well as the Rangers have been playing, the schedule of the rest of the season is very challenging. They play Philadelphia and Pittsburgh three times, Washington twice, and have single games left with Tampa, Colorado, St. Louis, Dallas and Arizona.
Of the 23 games the Rangers have left, 13 are on the road and 14 are against the ten best teams in the league. That’s challenging.
A pessimist (realist?) would point to their record against those ten teams so far this season. They have gone 8-9-1 against those teams and playing .500 hockey just won’t cut it.
An optimist would point to the team’s 11-5 record against Metropolitan Division rivals. An optimist would argue that those loses came pre-Shesterkin and before Kreider’s revival.
Here are some sobering numbers. In the recent 8-3 spurt by the Rangers, their eight wins came against teams with a combined won-lost record of 185-203-50 while their three losses came against teams with a combined record of 100-55-26.
Shesterkin may be a miracle worker, but even he will have a tough time beating those odds.