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NHL Playoff Picture 3.07.11: Still Precarious Edition

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With the New York Rangers cruising past the Ottawa Senators on Friday, then absolutely dismantling the Philadelphia Flyers in a 7-0 rout Sunday afternoon, it might be easy to forget that the Rangers playoff hopes are still precariously perched. 

But let's be honest, things look a whole lot better for the Rangers today than they did on Thursday. 

Still, the Rangers hold on seventh place in the Eastern Conference is anything but comfortable. Let's take a look at the playoff picture as it stands now: 

6. Montreal - 79 points (66 games played)
7. Rangers - 74 points (68 games played)
8. Buffalo - 72 points (65 games played)
* * *
9. Carolina - 71 points (66 games played)

10. Toronto - 67 points (66 games played)
11. Atlanta - 65 points (66 games played)
12. Devils - 64 points (65 games played)

The Sabres, who moved up to the eighth spot with their win over Minnesota in overtime Sunday night, are only two points behind the Rangers with three games in hand. Then the Rangers have to worry about the Hurricanes, who don't play until Wednesday, who are only three points back with two games in hand. 

The basic formula for the Rangers would be to keep winning and hope a team behind them stumbles along the way. The problem with that ideology, however, is that it's no longer a three-team race for the final two spots. 

The Devils, who continued their miracle run towards the playoffs, won in overtime Sunday; moving them just eight points behind eighth-place Buffalo. Toronto is only seven points behind the Rangers (five points out of eighth place) with two games in hand. And don't count out an Atlanta team forcing itself back into playoff talks as well. 

If the Rangers look up, the gap between themselves and sixth place must seem immense. If they look below, the gap between themselves and 12th place must look almost non-existant. 

The Rangers are trying to rebound after an awful nine points earned of a possible 24 in the month of February. That slump allowed lower teams to catch up to the Rangers, and higher teams to push themselves even higher. 

Thus far the Rangers are 2-2 in March, although the two wins have been impressive (especially the 7-0 thrashing of the Flyers). With Marian Gaborik returning, and Henrik Lundqvist finding his all-world form again; the Rangers can get back on the right track. 

If Ryan Callahan's four-goal performance against the Flyers didn't prove what the Rangers can do when they're on, then nothing will. Hopefully it's the spark that New York can use to fuel a successful run to close out the season. They still have 14 games left to play after all. 

No better time than to do that now. Since the one thing the Rangers don't have is games to spare.