Something about the New York Rangers' play recently suggests that they're intent on avoiding last season's fate. They've now won five straight games, pulling to an equidistant three points ahead of the eighth-seed Sabres and three behind the sixth-seed Canadiens. (Take a moment to reflect on how cool that is, given where they fell just a few weeks ago.) This is all motivated by a conditioned aversion to holding the final playoff seed. Henrik Lundqvist and company would very much like to wash out the memory of 2010's gut-wrenching, last-minute elimination in Philadelphia, and they're playing brilliantly enough to build the necessary buffer. Last night, the typically goal-happy Rangers instead won by the grace of Lundqvist's goalkeeping, defeating the Panthers 1–0. Brandon Dubinsky's third-period goal in traffic was all Lundqvist needed, as he recorded 22 saves in his league-leading tenth shutout of the season. Dubinsky's lone goal and Lundqvist's horizontal stonewalling of the Panthers in the game's final minutes were perhaps the lone sources of excitement in what Rangers blog Blueshirt Banter deemed "a root canal of a game." Boring as it may have been, it's a reassurance to Ranger fans that New York can win a low-scoring, back-and-forth affair, and even more of a reassurance that they're distancing themselves from that dreaded final spot. New York's next chance to pull even closer to the sixth seed will be Thursday against the Senators.
Photo: Mike Stobe/Getty Images