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The precarious state of the Rangers in crunch time

Rangers left wing Rick Nash looks on against

Rangers left wing Rick Nash looks on against the Philadelphia Flyers during the first period in Game 7 of an NHL hockey first-round playoff series at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday, April 30, 2014. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Well, safe to say that in a season of hyperbole, Wednesday’s game is the biggest of the Rangers’ journey this year, which started with a long exhibition season away from home in Western Canada, and could end in Pittsburgh on Friday night.

Lady Gaga, the WNBA and the arena football guys have easier schedules, if you get my drift. Should the Rangers have dispatched the Flyers earlier to avoid the schedule slog? Easy to say in hindsight. Should the schedule be an excuse? Not really.

Pro players and coaches are paid to persevere and rise to other levels and that’s what the Rangers have to do Wednesday in what might be the last stand of ‘13-14 on Broadway, especially the offensive leaders, Rick Nash, Brad Richards, Martin St. Louis, Derek Stepan, the usual suspects, and at the other end of the rink, Henrik Lundqvist.

The Blueshirts have summoned the will to put forth their best effort when their rear ends were against the wall, and you have to believe that today’s day off will help mentally and physically.

Nash, with one goal in 22 playoff games, is getting the most heat from the fanbase, and deservedly so.

But this club, which was not among the top eight overall in the league all season in my estimation, has always needed to have A-games through the lineup against the better teams and, let’s face it, they’ve missed Chris Kreider’s piece of the puzzle against the Flyers and Pens. Six goals, six assists on the power play. Speed. Size. A lil’ snarl.

Sure, injuries are part of it, in all sports, nature of the beast, and attrition is the name of the game in the NHL spring.

Look at Tampa without Ben Bishop, for example. The Blues were all banged up.  The Jackets missed Nathan Horton. They’re watching this round.

Before the series, I underestimated Fleury and the Pens two-way play and thought the Rangers' power play would snap outta the coma. Wrong so far.

The Blueshirts did manage to edge the Flyers with a Game 7 home win.  Game 4 is just as huge, essentially an elimination game. Can anyone really see the Rangers winning three straight, with two in The Burgh?

Winning two of three is far more plausible, if they can score some goals, maybe get a bounce, in Game 4. Kreider might help, if they believe he can contribute after missing 19 games, which is basically a quarter of the season. Yes, fresh legs, he’s been skating hard, but you can’t expect the timing and hands to be all there without practice.  

Does Vigneault gamble in Game 4 and hope he can get 12-15 really good minutes from Kreider?  Or does he hope the team comes through Wednesday and can dress Kreider in Game 5?

New York Sports