It has been a nearly apocalyptic post All-Star break for the New York Rangers. It has also been a miracle rejuvenation for the New Jersey Devils during that same timespan.
No, the Devils have not managed to break their way into the playoff picture as of yet. But the gap continues to get smaller and smaller with each game played.
Let's take a quick look at the playoff picture as it stands, using a chart put together by Jesse Spector last night (I updated the Montreal stats).
5. Washington – 72 points (22 games left) – won, 2-1, at Buffalo
6. Montreal – 69 points (22 games left) – lost 4-0 to Calgary.
7. Rangers – 66 points (21 games left) – lost at home, 4-2, to Philadelphia
8. Carolina – 64 points (22 games left)
* * *
9. Buffalo – 60 points (24 games left) – lost at home, 2-1, to Washington
10. Atlanta – 60 points (22 games left)
11. Florida – 57 points (24 games left)
12. Toronto – 57 points (23 games left)
13. Devils – 54 points (23 games left)
The first red flag for the Rangers is the games left segment. The Rangers have the lowest number of games remaining out of anyone in that picture, meaning that every team they are fighting with for a playoff berth has at least one game in hand.
That's a problem, especially when you're a team near the bottom attempting to fend off opponents who are trying to knock you out of the playoff bubble.
It also doesn't help when you lose to the teams you're fighting with (like the 1-0 loss to the Devils last week or the 3-2 loss to Atlanta right after the break). Unfortunately for the Rangers, that's exactly what they're doing.
The Rangers next five games are against Carolina, Washington, Tampa Bay, Buffalo and Minnesota. Three of those games (Carolina, Washington and Buffalo) are with teams that the Rangers are jostling for a playoff berth for. Two of them (Carolina and Buffalo) are teams that are below the Rangers with games in hand.
The experts call those "four-point games" to signify that you gain two points, while holding an enemy to no points. The Rangers need to win all the "four-point games" they can from this point forward.
The Devils, on the other hand, are in dream world. The Devils are now only 10 points out of a possible playoff berth, and are doing everything they can to shake the foundations of this playoff picture. Their 1-0 victory over the Rangers was another huge step in proving that this is not the same team that we saw pre-All-Star break.
So while the Rangers do everything they can to stay in the playoffs the Devils will do everything they can to knock them out.
Isn't that what good rivalries are for?