Prepping For The Playoffs

cat tacopinaIf I had to throw around a probable ratio of cynical Rhythm and Blueshirts columns vs. optimistic columns, I would like to say it’s probably 60:40. In reality, it’s probably 70:30. I feel like I tend to view the team more pessimistically than they probably deserve.

After all, nothing protects you and cures your disappointment faster than low expectations.

This week, however, is one of those columns that falls into the 30th percentile. Unlike most seasons where the Rangers’ playoff hopes come down to the very last wire, it’s possible that the Blueshirts will be able to seal the deal by the weekend.

Even if they don’t, they will more than likely secure a spot in the playoffs with a game or two to spare.

The Rangers only need three more points to clinch a playoff berth with five games left.

Not only that, but they’re on fire right now.

After a season with many gripes about key players not putting in solid and consistent performances, everything is coming together. Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist set two franchise records and notched another 30-win season, Forward Rick Nash is finally starting to look like the player we traded for back in 2012 and recent acquisition Forward Martin St. Louis got his first goal as a Ranger in their Tuesday night victory against the Vancouver Canucks.

As opposed to nothing working in the team’s favor, it’s amost as if virtually everything is going in their favor. I say virtually because the injury to Ryan McDonagh from Tuesday night is going to hurt. On the other hand, the defense, particularly Dan Girardi and Marc Staal, are playing extremely well. The team could have the luxury to rest McDonagh until the end of the season because, let’s face it: the Rangers don’t have a very difficult schedule ahead of them.

They have to face the Colorado Avalanche (who have already earned their playoff berth), the Ottawa Senators, the Carolina Hurricanes, the Buffalo Sabres and the Montreal Canadiens. It isn’t the most terrifying of schedules, especially when several factors are taken into consideration.

First, as previously stated, these aren’t the most terrifying of teams to go up against. The only two teams who should theoretically give the Rangers any problems are the Avalanche and the Canadians. Ottawa, Buffalo and Carolina are far out of playoff contention and, when you consider that the Rangers  only need three more points to make it to the playoffs, it shouldn’t be hard to get that small of an amount of points against those teams.

That’s the other thing; the Rangers don’t need that many points to make the playoffs. Just three. They could easily tie with Colorado and then beat Ottawa at home on Saturday, April 5. Ottawa is a fast team which, traditionally, the Rangers don’t stack up that well against. However, the Rangers are getting hot at the right time, so it’s very possible that locking up a spot in the postseason can happen Saturday night.

There are two concerns the Rangers need to look out for. Both the Philadelphia Flyers and Columbus Blue Jackets have seven games left as opposed to five, and neither are that far behind the Rangers. Columbus has 83 points while the Flyers have 87. If the Rangers lose steam and the Flyers and Blue Jackets pick that steam up, the Rangers would have to shoulder more pressure for getting into the playoffs.

But that’s a lot of “ifs,” and those “ifs” become magnified when you look at how the Flyers’ and Blue Jackets’ opponents stack up against the Rangers’ opponents. In those seven games, the Flyers will go up against the Blue Jackets, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Boston Bruins. They’re just coming off of an overtime loss to the St. Louis Blues, and they’ll also have the Tampa Bay Lighting to look forward to. Sure, they’ll also have easy teams like Buffalo and Carolina, but they’ll face tougher challenges than the Rangers.

The Blue Jackets aren’t going to face as many difficult opponents as the Flyers, but their schedule may prove the more difficult of the two. Columbus will play back-to-back games three times from now until April 12. They’ll get a one-day break between each run of two, but that’s going to tire them out. With a seven-point-gap to make up for, it’s more likely the Blue Jackets will gas out before they can catch up.

It’s going to be really nice actually enjoying the end of the regular season, rather than, you know, noticing the daily rise in blood pressure.