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Rangers vs. Penguins: Two more points clear

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at New York Rangers Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
  • Obviously winning is nice, especially in a game where I thought the Rangers were very unlucky to be ties 2-2 in the third, but this win was particularly important from a comfort level. I spoke after the Rangers’ OT loss to Pittsburgh that really the only team that could force the divisional playoff spot from the Rangers was Pittsburgh — specifically because they still had two head-to-head matchups with them. A sweep for the Penguins would have pulled them within four points at the time.
  • Last night’s win ensured that really can’t happen. Yes the Rangers play the Penguins again Saturday, but now they’re 10 points clear of Pittsburgh and 10 clear from the next in line Islanders — who the Rangers have two games in hand on. A little breathing room is never a bad thing.
  • Onto the game itself, as I said, I thought the Rangers were a little unlucky. Tristan Jarry made some enormous saves down the stretch — especially when it was 1-0 and 2-1. There’s probably something to be said for not finishing chances and the power play not connecting, but grinding out those kind of wins is critical in the playoffs.
  • I’ve talked all year about how important having a legitimate fourth line is — especially in the postseason. If you haven’t been a believer in that philosophy, last night should be enough to convert you. Not only did they connect — on a Tyler Motte goal that regained the lead in the second — but Gallant was able to effectively deploy them throughout the game to throw wet blankets on Pittsburgh when things were getting a little too hot. It is such a valuable weapon to have a group like that where they can actually be relied on throughout a game as needed.
  • Igor Shesterkin was also Igor Shesterkin ... again. He seems to be getting his feet back under him and the confidence is flowing back. The timing on that could not be better.
  • Mika March continues to be a thing. The Rangers’ top line center now has 35-37-72 in 68 games. He’s some player, man. He really is.
  • Christopher James scored an enormous third-period go-ahead goal, and shortly after added the empty netter. It became his second career (and second consecutive) 30-goal season. Far off last year’s 52 goals, but then again he has six power play goals this year compared to 26 last year. There’s your difference.
  • That’s not a knock on Kreider by the way. Part of that difference is because he’s not needed as much on the power play to be the defection extraordinaire. The Rangers have far more offensive weapons to move the puck around to create clear shooting lanes, which negates some of the need of a big-ass body in front of the net to cause chaos. It’s better this way, especially when Kreider is still scoring huge goals.
  • I love how well Vladamir Tarasenko has quietly started to fit in. Patrick Kane has removed almost all the spotlight from him, and Vlad just shows up and goes to work. He meshes well on either of the top lines because he’s a true trigger, and he adds a different dynamic to the rush. So often I find myself surprised to see Tarasenko on the other end of a chance off the rush — almost like you forget he’s there. His assist last night gave him 11 points in 17 games so far as a Ranger.
  • K’Andre Miller played the most of any Rangers’ player — it was another game without a single forward at 20 minutes — with 23:03 of ice time. While Gallant has been able to properly manage the forwards so no one is getting burned out, it’s been harder to manage when Ben Harpur is getting regular reps with Ryan Lindgren out.
  • I’m wondering if the team’s defensive issues without Ryan Lindgren — and seeing how much they miss him as a whole since his injury — is going to propel him up the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award charts.