If you're an Eastern Conference hockey team you have a pretty good idea of whether or not your team is in playoff contention. As of right now, there's eight points separating the 8th and 9th seeded teams.
That doesn't mean the race is over, however, especially with so much jockeying for position that's bound to happen from this point forward. The Rangers sit in the third and final playoff position in the Metro, four points behind Pittsburgh for second (with three games in hand) and five points behind the Islanders (with two games in hand). Washington hold the final wild card playoff berth tied with the Rangers at 60 points, but the Capitals have played three more games.
And while the Rangers might not be able to beat the Islanders, it appears they are, in fact, allowed to lose. The Islanders are on two game losing streak which has given the Rangers a prime opportunity to gain some ground on the divisional race tonight.
New York's opponent? The eight-points-behind-8th Florida Panthers, who come to Madison Square Garden 4-5-1 in their last 10 and sporting just 16 regulation and overtime wins (ROW).
My point? The Rangers need both points on the table tonight.
Saturday's big win over the Hurricanes was a welcomed relief, after the Rangers managed to score all of one goal in two full contests prior. The offense looked far more dangerous over the weekend, and the secondary scoring deserves a lion's share of the spotlight on that.
J.T. Miller -- perhaps in an attempt to show just how ludicrous it was to sit him -- had another great all-around game, including adding the physical edge that you love to see out of a guy who does other things well to boot. Carl Hagelin, Mats Zuccarello, Chris Kreider and Kevin Hayes were all fantastic in the offensive zone, highlighted by Hayes' brilliant feed to Kreider for the Rangers' insurance goal midway through the third period.
The power play didn't look great, but the Rangers had one opportunity with the man advantage so it's tough to make any judgement there. Dan Boye did score, however, to sink the dagger into the Hurricanes' heart as the third was winding to a close.
It was a great showing from the Rangers, and while it did come against a team in the basement of the conference, that's exactly what you need to do to the teams below you. You need to grab the two points when they're sitting on the table for you.
Tonight is no different, although there are bigger implications than just the two points up for grabs. The Rangers might have a chance to make up some ground on the teams ahead of them.
And maybe push the teams below them further down just to be safe.