NEW YORK - MARCH 06: Ryan Callahan #24 of the New York Rangers celebrates his third goal against the Philadelphia Flyers during their game on March 6, 2011 at Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
The New York Rangers have only fourteen games remaining in the regular season and currently are in seventh place in the Eastern Conference with 74 points. If you remember a week back we set the postseason cutoff in the East at about 90 points. Right now, considering how the teams in the playoff race are performing, 90 points still seems pretty reasonable at the moment. So that would mean the Rangers would have to get a minimum of sixteen points out of their next 14 games. That is approximately eight wins, which appears to be a simple task, right?
Wrong. Taking a look at the schedule for the remainder of the season, the Rangers have some very tough opponents coming their way. Starting with the western road trip this week, New York will have to face two teams that both possess more points than them. The Anaheim Ducks are in the thick of the incredible playoff scramble in the Western Conference with 75 points and are currently on a three game winning streak. The Sharks, meanwhile, are in third as they lead their division with 82 points. Those are two solid hockey clubs that are going to require the Rangers to play above average hockey.
Once they get past that, the Rangers then come back to the East where they will square off with the likes of the Canadiens, Penguins, Bruins (x2), Sabres, Flyers and Devils just to name a few. Of those six teams, four of them are ahead of the Rangers in the standings, and the two that aren't are making a noteworthy push towards a playoff spot.
So while the past two wins against the Ottawa Senators and Philadelphia Flyers have been encouraging from the standpoint that the Blueshirts turned around a losing streak and have been able to earn four big points, they have their work cut out for them in the final month of the regular season. I can easily say that they should be able to build off of Sunday's slaughtering of the rival Flyers, but with how inconsistent the team has been since the All-Star break, there really is no telling what will happen from this point on.
The thing that makes me a bit nervous going down the stretch here is that the Rangers are a relatively young team and do not have much experience in a predicament such as this one. Thankfully, though, they have a veteran coach in John Tortorella that has been going through this mad end of the season scramble since some of us were in diapers.
Tortorella, believe it or not, will have a major impact on the team's ultimate fate this season. Let's face it; he is a big reason the Rangers are in playoff position right now. Like I have said in the past, he believes in his players and they believe in him. There is a bond there that's only helped this team be successful all year long. And as we saw yesterday against the Flyers, he will support his players just as they support him. Sometimes he has to lose his cool behind the bench in order to do so, but if it is effective then I have no problem with that at all.
There are going to more ups and downs as the Rangers play out the final fourteen games here, but I have a strong belief that they will be able to clinch a playoff spot before game 82 this season. Once that happens, everything that has occurred over the past six months is forgotten because the second season - the playoffs - begin, and everyone starts off with a clean slate for those.
The Rangers have a challenging schedule to close the season out, but we've seen them overcome adversity time and time again this year. When they get going they can be a pretty magical hockey club, and when that's the case, you never know just how far they can actually go.