Let’s be realistic. The New York Rangers are probably going to finish second in the Metropolitan Division. Two points gained by Carolina or lost by the Rangers and first place is out of reach. The only real question is whether they will play Pittsburgh or Washington when the playoffs start next week.
It may be heresy, but losing to the Hurricanes on Tuesday night may the best thing for the Blueshirts. Why? Because the most important factor going into the Stanley Cup Playoffs is good health. Forget about getting tuned up for the postseason. Forget about being “on a roll” going into the postseason. These guys are professionals and sitting out a few games before the playoffs start is not going to hurt them.
The injury factor
There have been a few. The Rangers’ Andrew Copp suffered a lower body injury against the Islanders after scoring three goals. Filip Chytil was injured in the same game. Everyone holds their collective breath when Chris Kreider is hit or tries to block a shot. Same for Fox, Zibanejad, Trouba and company.
Alex Ovechkin suffered a shoulder injury Sunday when he slammed into the boards when tripped by the Maple Leafs’ goalie. His status is “day-to-day.” True, the Caps are in a battle to get to third place, but if they lose Ovechkin for the first round, would it really be worth it? Ovi showed up in uniform for the team picture taking session Monday, but he wasn’t moving quickly.
Antti Raanta suffered some sort of lower body injury in Sunday’s game versus the Islanders, but the word is that he is going to be okay and should be in net Tuesday night versus the Rangers. It was apparently just a cramp. But Raanta is still the backup as top goalie Frederik Andersen is iffy for the playoffs.
If the Rangers get Copp and Chytil back at 100% for the playoffs, consider it a bullet dodged, but it raises the issue of just who should be playing these last three games.
Artemi Panarin needs four points to reach the 100 point mark. Chris Kreider needs three goals to tie the franchise record. Does anyone really care? If Igor Shesterkin finishes with the statistics he has right now ,will that diminish his chances of winning the Vezina Trophy? Records and trophies are fine, but the ones that really matters are the ones that will be set starting next week.
Gerard Gallant has made it clear that he plays every game to win. Saturday, he strayed from his philosophy of rolling four lines and relied heavily on his top six. Sure, the Rangers were still in contention for first place, but if they are guaranteed a second place finish, should Panarin, Kreider and Zibanejad be playing over 23 minutes while Greg McKegg sees less than 10 minutes? Adam Fox played a team high 25 minutes Saturday. Braden Schneider played 11.
There are players who should be playing. Kaapo Kakko needs to get his timing back when he is ready to play again. The soon to be “black aces” need to get some ice time. It was obvious watching Julien Gauthier and Greg McKegg that they were completely out of sync with the rest of the team. Give Justin Braun some ice time along with Libor Hajek and Patrik Nemeth.
Let’s make a deal
Okay, Coach Gallant, let’s make a deal. Give Igor the start Tuesday night. Start the regulars. Go for first place. If the Rangers win, it will be Georgiev in net on Wednesday against Montreal and you can play the lineup you want.
But lose to Carolina and that’s it. Sit Shesterkin, Panarin, Zibanejad, Kreider, Fox and Trouba for the last two games. We don’t need to see Tom Wilson running roughshod over the Rangers’ stars as the Caps fight for third place. The Rangers don’t have anything to prove this season. They’ve exceeded all expectations and finishing with 112 points instead of 114 really doesn’t mean a thing.
Save it for the playoffs.