Sweet drive north on the 101 and here at SFO. Great mixed fruit smoothie at Java and Guava and the shuffle (Cyrus Chestnut, Peter Case, Finn Brothers, Civil Wars) is charged up for the flight to JFK. Reading material? "Amagansett" by Mark Mills, touching on murder, greed and love in post-WWII, and I mean, really, what else do ya need?
Anyway, here's one of my pieces/columns/opinions/stories from today's Newsday:
It’s down to a dozen.
The Rangers left California for New York today and although the race for a post-season berth here in the West is far tighter, with seven teams separated by three points, the Blueshirts have just 12 games remaining to secure the seventh or eighth spot in the Eastern Conference and avoid missing the playoffs for the second consecutive season.
To reach the post-season, the Rangers likely will need seven or eight wins or 15 or 16 of the 24 available points. The path won’t be easy: Six of the 12 games are against teams holding post-season slots and four are on the road: In addition to facing the Bruins and Flyers, the Rangers visit Pittsburgh and Buffalo.
“Everybody talks about offense and scoring goals, but if we don’t stay stingy defensively, we don’t have an opportunity to compete,” coach John Tortorella said before last night’s statement game against the Sharks, the second of the road trip that began with a 5-2 defeat to the Anaheim Ducks.
Seven of the final dozen games are at Madison Square Garden, beginning Tuesday with the fifth of six meetings this season against the Islanders. The Rangers have won three straight against their neighbors after a 6-4 loss on Oct. 11, but haven’t faced them since Dec. 27. And home ice hasn’t been an advantage for the Blueshirts, who are 15-16-3 in the midtown mecca under renovation.
Five of the dozen are on the road, including four in a row, starting with a Saturday matinee in Boston on March 26 and finishing with an April 3 afternoon game in always-tough Philadelphia, where the Rangers, despite a 46-save performance by Henrik Lundqvist, were eliminated from last season’s playoffs in a shootout.
Then, the regular season wraps up at home with three straight, against the Bruins, Thrashers and surging Devils, who may well be in the hunt, and if they are not, will be overjoyed to play a spoiler’s role.
The Sabres and Hurricanes have games in hand, but one positive is that the banged-up Blueshirts (Marc Staal and Vinny Prospal have sore knees, Ryan Callahan has an aching shoulder, Brian Boyle’s back is stiff, Brandon Prust’s hand isn’t 100 percent) should be rested for the stretch run. They have played just two games in the last six nights, and have only two in the next six days. With veteran backup Martin Biron out with a broken collarbone, the schedule is also favorable for Lundqvist, who was sensational last night and is expected to start all of the final dozen, depending on the standings.
One difference from last season is a tie-breaker rule change that could impact the Rangers. A win in 65 minutes is more valuable than a shootout victory. If two or more teams are tied in points, shootout wins are tossed out as the first tie-breaker. The Rangers have eight, the Sabres five, the Canes and Leafs four, and the Devils three.
The second and third tie-breakers (head-to-head record and goal differential) are unchanged. So why wouldn’t a team might pull its goaltender for an extra attacker during a tie game to avoid the shootout?
Under Rule 84.2, if a team is scored upon and loses, it forfeits its guaranteed point. And points, as the Rangers know, are at a premium in March and April.