Rangers-Hurricanes playoff preview? No big deal to Gerard Gallant
Depending on how things shake out in the Metropolitan Division race in these final few weeks of the NHL season, Tuesday night’s game at Madison Square Garden between the Rangers and Carolina Hurricanes could serve as a playoff preview, an advance look at a potential first-round series between the teams.
But that meant nothing to Rangers coach Gerard Gallant on Tuesday morning.
“Honestly, for me, no, I just want to keep playing well,’’ Gallant said after his team’s morning skate. “You talk about getting two points every night, and where you end up in the standings, you end up in the standings.
“I mean, it's important to win hockey games and play well,’’ he continued. “But at the end of the day, you're going to play a real good team [in the playoffs]. So that doesn't really matter. Honestly, as long as we get into the playoffs — that's the first goal — and then where you end up, you're going to play a real good team. It doesn't matter who it is. So just keep playing well, get points, and if you end up second, third . . . or first, then we'll deal with that when the time comes.’’
The Rangers entered Tuesday in third place in the division, with 92 points, five behind the second-place Devils and six behind first-place Carolina, with 12 games to go. The second- and third-place teams in the division meet in the first round, so the Rangers and Hurricanes would meet if the Devils, who hosted the Minnesota Wild Tuesday, pass Carolina and win the division, and then the Hurricanes and Rangers end up second and third.
Gallant was more concerned with keeping his team’s hot play going, though. The Blueshirts entered Tuesday streaking, having won the first four games of the homestand, including 6-0 and 7-0 thrashings of Pittsburgh and Nashville, respectively, in the last two, and six of the last seven overall.
And, they got defenseman Ryan Lindgren back Tuesday, after he missed 11 games with a shoulder injury.
“He's a big part of our group and we're happy to have him back, no doubt,’’ Gallant said of Lindgren.
“Obviously, it's been a long time,’’ said Lindgren, who was injured in the Feb. 25 game in Washington, when he was driven into the boards by Capitals forward T.J. Oshie. “It seems like the team is playing well right now, so I'm just excited to get back out there.’’
Given that Lindgren went out of the lineup before newcomer Patrick Kane had joined the team via trade on Feb. 28, he was asked whether he would now have to re-integrate himself to a new-look team that has seemed to find the chemistry it was seeking. .
“Yeah, maybe a little bit, I guess,’’ he said. “I think any time that you're out, you’ve got to kind of get back out there and . . . figure your way out again. And obviously we brought in ‘Kaner’ and some other guys, so I’ve just got to get back out there and start feeling good again.’’
If the Rangers are to keep playing well, and Carolina, which is minus its third-leading scorer, Andrei Svechnikov, for the rest of the season, were to slide all the way down to third place, the Rangers would end up with home-ice advantage in the first round, which didn’t seem likely a couple of weeks ago.
But Gallant insisted he’s not thinking about that.
“Honestly, I don't worry about that,’’ he said. “Don't get me wrong, I mean everybody wants to finish first. That's the goal. And you want to get home ice. That's a goal. But we're not going to extend ourselves. And I'm not going to worry one bit about that.
“I mean, the playoffs last year, you saw what happened. The Pittsburgh series we're down three games to one, we battled back. The other series we had didn't have home ice. We won Game 7. So, is home ice good? Yeah, it's good, but it doesn't mean a whole lot to me. Honestly.’’