Almost everything outside of the Rangers’ control went as badly as it possibly could have this weekend: On Saturday, Carolina won on Long Island, Montreal won in Newark, and the Sabres earned a point in an overtime loss in Washington. Then yesterday, the Hurricanes-Sabres game — in which one of the bubble teams was assured two points — went past regulation, meaning two points for the winning Sabres and one for the losing Hurricanes. (To make matters worse, the game didn’t reach a shoot-out, meaning it counts in Buffalo’s tie-breaking regulation/overtime win column.) The one thing the Rangers could control was the outcome of their game in Philadelphia — and this time, the late-season shoot-out in Philadelphia went their way.
Any concern that the Rangers — after the loss in Buffalo and especially after the embarrassing loss at the Coliseum — might again lack the sense of urgency required for these critical games had disappeared by the time Bryan McCabe let out his celebratory primal scream after blasting a power-play shot past Sergei Bobrovsky with less than a second remaining in the first period. This time, the Rangers mostly played the type of game they need to play to succeed, especially if they advance to the playoffs: lots of blocked shots (even if one came back to hurt them, when Philly scored after Ryan McDonagh limped to the bench), an effective forecheck, and strong goaltending.
And perhaps more important, they did it all in a tight game against one of the conference’s best teams — albeit one missing Chris Pronger and Danny Briere. (As great a win as it was — and it was a great, great win — we’ll note that for all the talk lately of the importance of playing disciplined hockey, the Rangers took an unnecessary too-many-men penalty yesterday. And Marian Gaborik — who’s been getting his chances of late — still isn’t burying pucks in the net.) That said, the Rangers badly needed these two points, and they earned them in the 3–2 victory, sticking up for each other and once again taking advantage of the skills competition in which they’re so well-suited to succeed. (Side note: If Nik Zherdev — who, full disclosure, we found to be the most maddening Ranger of the post-lockout era — had scored a key goal in the shoot-out after netting one during regulation, the post you’re reading now would contain more than a few expletives.)
It’s been a strange week: The Rangers, through last weekend, had been playing arguably their best hockey of the season. They then lost two games, which, in the grand scheme of things, is hardly reason for concern. Even the effort on Long Island was an anomaly for a team that’s developed a reputation as a blue-collar team that rarely takes nights off. But the rest of the bubble teams have done the Rangers no favors — and one suspects they’ll continue to put pressure on the Rangers and each other.
Everyone else that matters is idle tonight, while the Rangers play Boston at the Garden. A win, and the Rangers would leapfrog Buffalo into seventh, tie sixth-place Montreal in points (the Canadiens own the tiebreaker), and extend their lead over ninth-place Hurricanes to four points. A loss, and they remain right where they are, on the very edge of the playoff picture, with just two games remaining. It’s going to be a fun week, isn’t it?