Improved special-teams play gives Rangers boost during playoff push
A revival in special-teams play in the past four games clearly has boosted the Rangers' late playoff push.
The power play, which had dragged down the entire offense and had been 2-for-23, is 5-for-11, with five different scorers in the last four games. The Rangers have climbed to 19th in the NHL rankings at 17.2 percent, up from 25th at 14.4 percent.
The penalty kill, which had allowed seven goals in 22 chances, is 14-for-14 in the last four games during the Rangers' 3-0-1 stretch, including 5-for-5 on Saturday against Carolina. That streak lifted the Rangers from 21st in the PK standings at 80.2 percent to 11th at 84.5 percent. Ryan Callahan also had a shorthanded goal April 1 against Winnipeg.
Gaining seven of a possible eight points, according to two websites that calculate playoff odds daily, raised the Rangers' chances. Sportsclubstats.com figures that the Blueshirts have an 89.6-percent chance to be in the playoffs. Hockey-reference.com puts it at 79.3 percent.
"I just think some of the personnel is playing better," coach John Tortorella said of the power play. "Zook [Mats Zuccarello] has added something to it and we're finding a way to score goals. There's been much more puck possession; some of the times when we were struggling with it, we were getting chances but we weren't scoring. We're scoring on it now at key times in games. Brass [Derick Brassard] comes in here and he's added something to it. [Ryane] Clowe and Brian Boyle are doing some good work in front of the net."
Brad Richards, in a serious funk most of the season, also has added a goal and two assists. "I think his offense is coming," Tortorella said. "He makes a great play to [Derek] Stepan on a pretty important [power-play] goal to start us off [Saturday]. He's making more plays."
Newcomers Brassard, from Columbus, and Clowe, from San Jose, have a goal and two assists each on the power play, and Zuccarello has an assist. Rick Nash scored Saturday on the PP and has three goals (two at even strength) in the last four games.
Special teams could very well be a factor in the upcoming home-and-home series against the Maple Leafs, beginning Monday night in Toronto. The Rangers won, 5-2, at home in their only other matchup Jan. 26. The Rangers did not score and were 0-for-4 on the power play. Two players who scored three of the goals won't be playing: Marian Gaborik (two) is with Columbus and Marc Staal (one) is injured. Toronto is ranked third on the penalty kill.
With Henrik Lundqvist playing both ends of the back-to-back Friday and Saturday, it is possible that Martin Biron (2-2-1, 2.32 GAA) will start in goal Monday night or Wednesday. He beat the Maple Leafs, 3-0, in his last start in Toronto on Jan. 14, 2012.