The last thing the Rangers needed was two of their more energetic and passionate players suffer from injuries in the middle of a playoff push. Unfortunately, that is the case with Ryan Callahan and Sean Avery both injuring their legs when attempting to beat out an icing call this past week. Callahan’s occurred last Sunday in Boston when he collided with defenseman Zdeno Chara. Callahan did in fact make a return after that injury in the next game against the Islanders, but then re-aggravated the pain in his right leg Thursday in New Jersey.
Sean Avery has been playing some of the best hockey of his career as of late. It has not only been scoring goals, but using his mouth, skating, knowing how to get under the skin of opponents. Sean has been a key to the Rangers recent success, or, at least their two-game success. That being said, it is going to hurt this team if Avery is out long term after having his leg pinched along the boards when chasing a puck against Luke Schenn Saturday in Toronto.
For once, I think head coach John Tortorella hit the nail on the head when referring to Avery’s injury in his postgame comments.
"It’s a tough break, he’s probably playing his best hockey of the year," Tortorella said. "He’s really focused in the past couple of weeks, he’s a big part of us trying to find a way and it’s a tough break, not only for him, more importantly, for the hockey club."
Both Callahan and Avery remain unsure whether or not they will be able to play Tuesday against the Islanders at Nassau Coliseum. However, if both are out long term, the Rangers will have a very difficult time establishing a forecheck and playing an energetic game. On their respective offensive lines, Avery and Callahan are always the first players in the corners, chasing down the loose pucks on the forecheck. Other than them, there are not many players who are efficient in doing so on this team like Sean and Ryan are.
Much more after the jump.
Either way, the Blueshirts are keeping their fingers crossed that both can return to the lineup on tomorrow against the Isles. Without them, I do not see the Rangers even coming close to that final eighth place playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, because the key from this point on will be effort and desire. Not many players on this team, other than Avery and Callahan, have that.
Also, If you were following my tweets last night, you would have seen that the New Jersey Devils were defeated by the Philadelphia Flyers 5-1 at the Wachovia Center. For the Rangers, the result of this game decreases their likelihood of making the playoffs slightly, as the Flyers have now pulled ahead of the Blueshirts by six points in the Eastern Conference standings. The Rangers can only hope that Boston loses to Buffalo tonight, otherwise their chances of making the playoffs will be extremely slim.
If the Bruins happen to defeat the Sabres, I am pretty convinced that the Rangers will have to win out to conclude the regular season in order to make the postseason. As you can see, not winning in Boston last Sunday and not being able to capture the full two points in Toronto on Saturday is already coming back to haunt this hockey club, and now they have a ton of pressure on them.
New York has seven games left this season, which means there is a total of exactly fourteen points up for grabs. If they were to get all fourteen, they would be at 90 on the year. Based on recent trends, I have a feeling that the postseason cut-off will be somewhere between 88 and 90 points, which is why the Rangers cannot afford to lose another game. I just do not see them being able to go on a seven-game winning streak right now, because the last time that happened was in the first three weeks of October.
Right now, the Rangers need to take it day by day, game by game, period by period. I know it is hard, but they cannot look too far ahead. They need to focus on the task at hand and that is the New York Islanders at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Tuesday. Get two points in that game and you are still alive. That needs to be their mentality, otherwise they will get too far ahead of themselves and not have the right focus. This happens to many teams each and every year.
Like I said, the fight for the final playoff spots will come down to which team is more consistent. The Bruins have been streaky, the Flyers have been streaky, as have the Atlanta Thrashers. It is anyone's playoff spots right now based on how these teams have played as of late, and it will provide for a very exciting finish to the season. That is, of course, if the Rangers are able to somehow sneak in.
Updated Playoff Race in the East:
6. Montreal Canadiens - 82 pts
7. Philadelphia Flyers - 82 pts
8. Boston Bruins - 80 pts
9. Atlanta Thrashers - 78 pts
10. New York Rangers - 76 pts
Both the Bruins and Thrashers will be in action tonight.