The New York Rangers may have clinched a playoff position and there may only be seven games left in the season, but that doesn't mean there isn't a lot to play for. New York has home-ice advantage for at least the Eastern Conference slate of playoff games at stake -- and right now its margin is only one point as the Pittsburgh Penguins have been streaking over the past several weeks. In a sense, the playoffs have already begun.
Tuesday, the Rangers, who control their own destiny, seek to at least keep their first-place pace up when they take on the Minnesota Wild on the road at 8:00 p.m. EST (MSG). The Penguins host the New York Islanders on Tuesday as well.
The Blueshirts over the past month have been up and down: One game they look like the class of the Eastern Conference, and the next, they struggle to play to their identity. That, coupled with the Pens winning 14 of their last 16 games, has made pretty much every game a must-win for the Rangers.
At the beginning of the season, the Wild were one of the NHL's best teams. But they hit a goal-scoring wall, recording the fewest goals in the NHL at 2.01, and the goaltending hasn't been able to mask the deficiency, and they've fallen to the basement of the NHL at 31-34-10. Dany Heatley leads the team with 47 points and 21 goals; Kyle Brodziak is second with 19 and 41. To put it into perspective, Rangers have scored 51 more goals than their opponent and have four players with at least 41 (47 to be exact) points. Minnesota is coming off of two straight losses in which it was outscored 6-1. It has three wins, two via the shootout, in March. Suffice to say, the Rangers need to take care of business.
Minnesota natives Ryan McDonagh, Stu Bickel and Derek Stepan will be playing in their home state, so they'll certainly be amped up. The Rangers could use a little extra scoring from their secondary scorers, with Stepan being one of those struggling (three points, one goal in the last eight games), so maybe this is a game that can get him going.
Even though the Wild are a struggling team, the Rangers can't take them lightly. Coach John Tortorella will most likely remind his troops that they are successful when they turn their defense into offense and executive the details of the game.