The New York Rangers once enjoyed a very comfortable cushion in the playoff race. Their recent play since the All-Star break has put a damper on those wishes and after their third straight loss -- fourth consecutive on home ice -- to the Minnesota Wild, 3-1, the Rangers' hold on the final playoff spot is only two points and expiring fast.
To make matters worse, the Carolina Hurricanes-Buffalo Sabres tilt went to overtime -- both earned points -- and the 'Canes won, vaulting themselves one point ahead of the Blueshirts, with one less game played. Buffalo is just two points back with three less games played. In addition, defensive sensation Ryan McDonagh suffered what looked to be a knee injury in the third period and was unable to return.
This game started out very promising for New York: a quick goal by Sean Avery (his first in 23 games) on a picture-perfect set up from Erik Christensen highlighted an utterly dominating period. The Wild didn't have a shot for the first 17 minutes of the game -- and were out shot, 8-3.
Still, as we've all come to learn with this Rangers team, it doesn't matter how great your effort is, or how many shots you have; what matters is getting the puck into the net and this team is snakebitten in that regard right now. Three unanswered goals later by the Wild, and a 3-1 loss looks like a rather uninspired one for New York, until you take a look at the shots on goal advantage: 41 to 19 in favor of the Rangers. Brandon Dubinsky had eight of those shots on goal (and he also missed eight).
Sure, many of the team's shots were straight at Jose Theodore. But there were quite a few impressive saves -- and quite a few more loose/juicy puck rebounds that the Rangers just flat-out missed the net, or were unable to get to because of the strong Wild defense around the net.
New York is now a dreadful 14-16-3 at home and their lack of success there is killing their playoff chances. The Rangers lead the East with 66 games played -- and with 16 games left, don't have a lot of wiggle room right now.
The Rangers will need to continue their strong road-play tomorrow against the Ottawa Senators, who have the second worst record in the NHL, if they want to stay in this race. Their hopes are quickly fading.