Remaining schedule favors Rangers
It has come down to emotion, effort and numbers.
In the last two weeks, the Rangers, who have won two straight and are on a 5-1-1 run, have improved in the first two categories. Now the numbers are favorable for a playoff position.
They are 7-4 against the five teams remaining on their schedule, none of which is in the playoffs at this point. They are 3-1 against the Flyers, whom they face in Philadelphia on Tuesday; 0-1 against the Panthers, who visit Madison Square Garden on Thursday, and 1-1 against the Sabres, whom they play in Buffalo on Friday. They also visit Florida and Carolina (2-0), and host the Devils (1-1) twice in the final four games.
The Rangers are two points behind sixth-place Ottawa, with each having played 41 games, and one point behind the Islanders, with a game in hand. They are two points clear of ninth-place Winnipeg and have a game in hand on the Jets as well.
Except for the back-to-back Thursday and Friday, the Rangers -- who did not practice Sunday -- have at least one day off between each game, so it is entirely possible that Henrik Lundqvist (19-14-3, 2.06 GAA, .928 save percentage) will start in goal until they're assured of a playoff berth.
One simmering issue, a liability most of the season, remains: "I thought our power play was brutal and our penalty kill was that good," coach John Tortorella said after the 20th-ranked Rangers went 0-for-4 with the man-advantage against the Islanders, dropping them to 2-for-16 in the last five games. "We're just not shooting the puck, and we have opportunities to shoot."
The edge may be in the schedule. Four teams (Florida, Carolina, Buffalo and New Jersey) are ranked lower on the power play, and three are worse on the penalty kill (the Sabres, Devils and Hurricanes).
Meanwhile, the Rangers' penalty-kill units have snuffed 19 of the last 20 power-play opportunities. They are 13th overall in the league.
What can't be accounted for are intangibles. Opponents who are out of the hunt can play the role of spoiler; these last games are their 2013 playoffs.