The New York Rangers are in eighth place in the Eastern Conference at the moment, as the Buffalo Sabres defeated the Senators on Sunday to tie the Rangers in points. Being that Buffalo has a game at hand, they temporarily get the seventh place spot over the Blueshirts, but both teams now have a four-point gap between themselves and the ninth place Carolina Hurricanes. For the Rangers, they will look to widen that gap over the next week, but it will not be easy since they are going up against three different but challenging opponents in a six-day span.
Saturday's shootout win against the San Jose Sharks was a character win and one that was desperately needed. However, how many times have we seen this team fail in the follow-up games after a character win this season? It's happened often, so I believe that the next three games will tell if this team really has what it takes to make the playoffs this year. Will they build off the momentum that goes along with taking down one of the powerhouses in the Western Conference? Or was that simply a one-night-wonder that will end up having little significance to this team?
We will find out starting tonight when the rival New York Islanders visit Madison Square Garden. While the Isles have only won four of their last ten, they've gotten points out of eight of those games. Their persistent effort and resilient attitude has seen them forcing their opponents to overtime more often than not as of late, and right now the points are adding up since they are only eleven points behind eighth. That may seem like a lot, but considering how we've seen things shake out in the East in past years, you never know what could happen.
Tuesday's tilt will be a big test for the Rangers. Like always, it is a game in which the Rangers are facing a club lower than them in the standings. With big points on the line, that means the Blueshirts must win that game. They cannot afford to come out flat, however, otherwise they will be embarrassed by their intrastate foes. A 60-minute effort will be required of the Rangers tonight, and recently those have been very hard to come by.
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Things only get more difficult from there as the Blueshirts will then have to play host to the Montreal Canadiens on Friday. The Habs have been playing great hockey for the past few weeks and have begun to run away with the sixth place spot in the East. They are a team that always seems to give the Rangers fits too, so that will be no easy win for John Tortorella's squad. They work hard and are fast, putting the opposition's defense to the test. Hopefully New York's blue-line will be up to the task.
And then on Sunday, to top off the trifecta, the Rangers will visit our good friends from Pittsburgh - the Penguins. Somehow the Penguins have continued to win without their best players in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in the lineup, which to me says a whole lot about a team. Many accounted for the Pens being down and out once those two were injured, but they've proved the critics wrong and have continued to find ways to get points. Several of those points have come against the Rangers this season, so again, another team that the Rangers have run into problems against.
And don't forget that the game will be played in Pittsburgh and televised nationally on NBC. Perfect.
If the Rangers really want this as bad as they claim and if they truly are ready to battle for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, these next three games will prove that. If they are pretenders are not suited for the playoffs this year, these next three games will also prove that. Three different opponents all with different playing styles is going to be tough for the Rangers and they will need to play their best hockey of the season.
With that said, I think it's safe to assume that the Islanders, Canadiens and Penguins could potentially determine the Rangers' fate this season over the next week.