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SportsColumnistsArthur Staple

Rangers alive, but is that really a good thing?

New York Rangers celebrate Dan Girardi's third-period goal

New York Rangers celebrate Dan Girardi's third-period goal in their 5-0 shutout of the New York Islanders. (March 24, 2010) Photo Credit: AP

They're still alive. Very much so, in fact.

The Rangers' playoff hopes were thought dashed on Sunday in Boston, but last night's 5-0 shutout of the Islanders was a reminder that a favorable schedule and a pool of mediocrity has the Rangers still in the hunt for the postseason.

The question, of course, is this: Is a playoff run worth it? No Ranger would dare say that it isn't, despite the maddening last week, with three close losses that seemed to show that the Rangers didn't have it in them to grab a fifth consecutive playoff berth.

"It's basically 10 one-game seasons," Chris Drury said. "This one's over, and it's on to the next one."

The Islanders are now, with nine games left, 10 points and five teams to get through, on their way to a second straight lottery pick. Given what they have to work with right now, especially on defense - there's no hockey universe in existence where Dylan Reese should be matching up with Marian Gaborik, who blew by the young Islanders defenseman for the fourth goal of the night - the Islanders' best course of action is to get another top-three pick in June and keep on building.

Scott Gordon may disagree, as may his current players. There's no excuse for tanking, though the first 40 minutes the Islanders played in the Garden in this game were fairly inexcusable.

"Probably our worst game of the year," Gordon said. "From the first shift, we weren't sharp. What made it worse is that they were."

The Rangers may be better off with a top-5 or top-7 pick in a draft that's got some very promising talent at the top; it would be a better fit with a real rebuilding plan, a ground-up version that the Rangers have rarely subscribed to.

But the reality is that the Rangers could and should be a playoff team, especially in the very weak Eastern Conference. Of their remaining nine games, only two are against solidified playoff teams, including tonight's game in Newark with the Devils.

There is a six-game road trip starting with that game, but as it happens, the Rangers are a better road team this season (16-15-3) than a home team (16-17-6). There are visits to the Leafs, Islanders, Lightning and Panthers, all in the bottom half of the conference.

And then there is the home-and-home to close the season against the Flyers, the most vulnerable playoff team, who are six points ahead of the Rangers and without two goaltenders and a top-line forward.

There is still the matter of John Tortorella getting consistency from a lineup that has only had fits and starts of good play all year. Sean Avery is in full aggravation mode, Gaborik had his first multi-goal game in nearly two months and Henrik Lundqvist is standing tall. All good signs. Maybe not as good as the thought of drafting a bona fide young star, but that's for another time.

The Rangers are very much alive after last night. The Islanders really aren't.

It's hard to say which is the better state to be in.

The Dolan family owns a controlling interest in Knicks owner MSG and in Cablevision. Cablevision owns Newsday.

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