Got a big goal in ya, Gabby? (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Any coach in any sport will tell the media and their players in tight playoff races something to the effect of "we can only control how we play." Well, after 80 games on this god-forsaken roller-coaster that is an NHL season the Rangers have the opportunity to make this season worth-while after all. Sure, we all have criticized and for the past two weeks I will admit myself that I would have rather taken a better draft pick. In the end, though, a true hockey player and team never gives up; and with two wins over the Flyers this weekend the Rangers can make a huge character statement and learn a lot along the way.
The Flyers, as many of you know, are a good team with a bad goaltending situation. A great word in my opinion to describe the Flyers is balanced; especially offensively where there are four players over 50 points and six over 40. This is contrary to the Rangers, who are an OK team with a great goaltender. Tom Renney's Rangers still lingers to this day, as team efforts on both ends of the ice win the majority of the games. But we all know what the situation is, who the opponent is, and what we all want to happen. The real question is which Ranger team will show up come Friday night.
Here are my three keys for the weekend that need to happen for the Rangers to have a chance:
1. Control the Play
I've used this phrase a lot this season, but in every Ranger win, including the one over Toronto on Wednesday, it still resonates in my mind. Sure, every team wants to spend as much time in the opponents zone as possible, but in games where the pace has been up this year the Rangers have thrived. Hopefully Philly wants to run and gun all weekend, because then I think our chances will be a bit better.
Also, do you know that horrible-yet-catchy LMFAO/Lil' Jon SHOTS song? Yeah, well I want the Rangers forward to listen to it on repeat after warm-ups, because they need SHOTS on net all weekend. Brian Boucher may be having a little streak, but he's still Brian Boucher; the same guy who has been a career backup with a GAA just over 2.7. Get bodies in front, get SHOTS on net, and make his weekend a living hell.
2. Avoid Penalties at all costs
These two teams don't like each other and there are going to be scraps, but it's the penalties between all the hoopla that the Rangers desperately need to avoid. The Flyers have the 5th best Power Play in the league at 21.41 percent and it's something I would rather not see the Rangers test against the odds. In two of the four games the Rangers have taken more penalties, one of which was lost 2-0. The 6-0 drubbing by the Flyers was tied at 3-3 for penalties, while the Sunday March 14th 3-0 win by the Flyers resulted in the Flyers taking one more penalty (7-6).
Guys like Prust, Avery, Voros, and Shelley need to just do their job and not take it over the line. Play hard, agitate, and even fight; but do not instigate unnecessarily and when the puck is around make every effort to do the right thing. There is no need for a pissing contest this weekend.
3. Keep up the Intensity/Show your worth
Brandon Prust has lead the way in this category, and there is no reason to stop it. On top of that obvious need, every player needs to show us and management that they want to win. I'm sure all of us are sick and tired of seeing a mediocre team play a mediocre game. There is a heated rival coming to town and then the final game of the season in a tough building; let's see them rise to the occasion. Every player in that Ranger locker room knows their role, they just have to do it with heart, consistency, and dedication for two games.
Also, this would be a good time for any of the guys making the big bucks (Gaborik, Drury, Jokinen, Rozsival) to step it up and earn them. Gaborik has been everything we thought he would be, so two more games wouldn't be too much to ask for, would it?
So let's hope for some good hockey and positive results this weekend. I'm going to be a pure supporter this weekend as it isn't worth at this point pulling my hair out. We all know that if the Rangers manage to sneak in it'll be another daunting task against Washington, but that can't be a thought right now. If it doesn't work out just realize that more fuel will be added to the fire Glen Sather fire.