There might be 11 games left in the season, but for the New York Rangers the playoffs may as well start today.
That's the importance level of every game the Rangers will take part in from here on out. Especially considering the Rangers are in such a dogfight to secure a playoff spot, every single one of those potential 22 points might be vital.
We've talked about the amount of fight in this team, and how much heart they show on a nighty basis. Some attribute the change to youth. Some attribute the change to a better group of guys in the locker room who give the team a "more of a family than a team" mentality.
I'll give the nod to a mixture of the two.
But whatever the reason might be isn't important, what is important is the fact that the Rangers are simple a more dangerous team this year than they were last year. New York has shown the ability to beat any team on any given night. That bodes well for the optimists among the Rangers fanbase, since the Rangers will likely find themselves playing the Washington Capitals or Philadelphia Flyers in the first round if they make the cut.
But it's making the cut that currently resides as the Rangers main priority.
Join me after the jump for more.
The Rangers playoff hopes are a lot better off right now then they were about a week ago. The Hurricanes, who are in ninth place, are only four points behind the Rangers, but they (finally) have no games in hand. Buffalo, the eighth place team, is two points back, with one game in hand.
The simplest solution for New York to secure its playoff chances is to win. But that's obviously much easier said than done.
If Marian Gaborik's game against the Islanders was any indication of the Rangers sniper breaking out of his slump then the Rangers chances of grabbing those late-season wins would get that much easier. But Gaborik has done this before this season, so I would advise the fansbase waits a few more games before hailing his return.
There's no doubt, however, that a red-hot Gaborik makes the Rangers twice as dangerous as they are with a slumping Gaborik. Especially with the level of scoring talent this team boasts to make teams pay if they shadow or double-team him.
Henrik Lundqvist is another player who's performance will harmonize with the Rangers playoff hopes. The All-Star goaltender is having a solid year for New York, but his stamina will be tested in the final portion of the season due to the injury of Martin Biron.
I told you all before the season even started that Biron was the biggest signing Glen Sather made this past off-season. His injury has once again forced John Tortorella to use Lundqvist on a daily basis down the stretch. How much this will effect Hank has yet to be seen, but it's certainly not a scenario Sather and Tortorella wanted to be playing out at this point.
We've talked all season about how fantastic it is that the Rangers have integrated so much youth into this team. But the youth we all love so much might actually be a point of concern these final 11 games.
You don't need me to tell you how much different playoff games are than regular season games. It's why playoff experience is such an important factor in analyzing what a player can bring to a squad. But experience isn't a black-and-white picture, and these final games will basically be playoff games with a high-pressure atmosphere.
There's no telling how the kids will play under the amped-up pressure, but it's definitely a point to keep an eye on.
It's this point that makes the Wojtek Wolski and Bryan McCabe acquisitions so critical. Wolski, who's only 25-years-old, has played in 22 playoff games, while McCabe has suited up for 51. That means Sather's two big moves this season has added 73 playoff games, and that includes grabbing a younger player in Wolski who seemed poised to be part of the Rangers future plans.
Again, you don't need me to tell you how vital these next 11 games are for the Rangers playoff hopes. It's time to see what the team can do with their chances.