The New York Rangers have spent the past two night in Columbus waiting for the Blue Jackets to show up for their game tonight. Columbus was busy on Thursday, playing Montreal on the road. They won that game, 3-2, in regulation. Philadelphia was also busy Thursday, beating Dallas 4-2 to give them an even bigger playoff cushion than they had before.
Let's take a look at what the standings look like (Metropolitan and Wild Card only):
1. Pittsburgh - 95 points - 69 games played - 40 ROW
2. Philadelphia - 81 points - 69 games played - 34 ROW
3. Columbus - 78 points - 69 games played - 31 ROW
1WC. Toronto - 80 points - 71 games played - 27 ROW
2WC. New York - 78 points - 70 games played - 33 ROW
OK, there are some hints of good news there. The Rangers have the second-highest ROW (regulation and overtime wins) which is the first tiebreaker in the event two sides are tied on points. The true "first tiebreaker" is winning percentage, which is why Columbus is ahead of the Rangers right now (they have a game in hand). Of course, this doesn't matter once everyone has played their entire schedule.
The bad news? Well, there's a few things. Everyone who matters has games in hand. Philadelphia has a full three point lead over the Rangers with a game in hand. And, oh yeah, neither Columbus or Philadelphia seems to be losing.
The Rangers happen to play both Philadelphia and Columbus before the year ends. That's a good thing, since if the Rangers want to make the playoffs they get to go through the two teams who are currently boxing them out of a Metropolitan spot. Tonight the Rangers are taking on Columbus is what has to be labeled as a must-win game.
I know George has (correctly) pointed out that the Rangers' schedule is not exactly a strong one to finish out the year. But the schedule does include tonight's game, against a surging Columbus Blue Jackets on the road.
If the Rangers can win, they move two point ahead of Columbus, although Columbus has a game in hand. If they lose, the Rangers fall two points back with Columbus having a game in hand. It might not seem like much, but it matters. This is a huge four-point game.
Of course, the Rangers can lose this game and go on a tear the rest of the season to make the playoffs. This isn't meant to be a "bang the drums and panic" post, but it is meant to be a "you should have butterflies because tonight's game is really important."
Hopefully the Rangers treat it that way, too.