Mar 13 2012; New York, NY, USA; New York Rangers center Brad Richards (19) and teammates celebrate scoring during the second period against the Carolina Hurricanes at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-US PRESSWIRE
There are 11 games left in the NHL regular season. The New York Rangers are essentially guaranteed a playoff berth, but what seed they will get remains to be seen.
Yesterday afternoon, the Philadelphia Flyers earned an overtime victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins, a win which kept the Penguins from matching the Rangers in points on the season. It also, however, brings the Flyers that much closer in the race for the top seed in the East.
As it stands now, the Rangers are atop the East with 95 points. The Penguins are in fourth with 94 points and the Flyers are in fifth with 92 points. You read that right, the Flyers are right there with the Penguins on the Rangers' tails.
That means the Rangers are no longer just fighting for the first seed, they're fighting for home ice advantage. At this point, the fourth seed is no longer guaranteed, especially with the Flyers coming on strong as well. Think about that for a minute; the entire landscape of the Eastern Conference playoffs is hanging in the balance.
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As of this article, however, the Rangers are still in first place. And are still a whole three points clear of the Flyers, who reside in fifth place. So as long as the Rangers keep on winning, they can keep both the Penguins and the Flyers at bay.
Easier said than done for sure.
Tonight will be the first step in that road for first place. And it's fitting that the opponent is yet another division rival who is looking for a playoff berth themselves. No, the New Jersey Devils can't catch the Rangers in points this year without a big run, but they can still knock the Rangers down a peg or two as the playoffs approach.
We've talked at length about the Rangers' confidence this year. John Tortorella talked about it after the loss to the Colorado Avalanche, and admitted that the Rangers couldn't get discouraged because despite taking a loss it was one of the team's best efforts of the season.
Let's hope we see that kind of effort tonight, because we all know how badly the Rangers need these two points.
A win tonight would help continue to grow the Rangers' confidence and allow the team a little more breathing room (barring another Penguins'victory) in the standings. It would also give the Rangers a little bit of momentum with a matchup against Detroit looming Wednesday.