Nobody likes the schoolyard bully (well, unless you are the bully). He picks on the smaller kids, takes their lunch money, and makes life tough for some of his peers. As the last week of the NHL regular season approaches, the Rangers will need to do their best impression of the O’Doyle family from Billy Madison (short of the family car going off the cliff) to close the season. All four of their remaining games are against teams below them in the standings. Since the Rangers beat the New York Islanders on April 13th, their schedule has consisted of teams that will be on the golf course in May. They’ve taken care of business so far (2-1-0, with 16 goals scored in those three games), but will need to continue rolling along.
Sunday 4/21 – vs. New Jersey
-The Devils ten game losing streak came to an end this past week, but the hole they’ve dug themselves to get in to the playoffs may be too deep. You can count on the Devils playing for their post-season lives in this game, because they have to. A loss in regulation or overtime ends the Devils bleak hopes of a playoff birth (although getting Ilya Kovalchuk back helps). A Rangers victory would be their second straight game of eliminating an Eastern Conference team from the playoff race.
Tuesday 4/23 @ Floirda
-After an embarrassing performance against the Panthers at Madison Square Garden back in March, the Rangers got revenge at MSG with a 6-1 mauling of Florida this past Thursday. The Panthers currently lead the “Suck for Seth” sweepstakes (Defenseman prospect Seth Jones is the likely #1 overall pick in this year’s entry draft), and the Blueshirts need to help them increase their odds of winning the #1 overall pick in the lottery.
Thursday 4/25 – @ Carolina
-Someone needs to pull the plug on the Hurricanes season. They haven’t won back to back games since March 9th & March 12th, and have lost the bulk of their games since then. Not getting two points in Raleigh would be inexcusable. This is the last road game of the Rangers regular season schedule.
Saturday 4/27 – vs. New Jersey
-If the Devils win their first meeting with the Rangers at MSG, beat the Penguins and Canadiens during the week, and the Rangers lose their other two games, this could be a play-in game for the 8th spot. Stranger things have happened, but this is more likely to be a game where the Devils can play spoiler. Depending on the week’s events, the Rangers could be playing for seeding, to remain in 8th, or the game could be meaningless.
It’s entirely possible for the Rangers to move up as high as fifth in the East, but with the way the Ottawa Senators and New York Islanders have been playing lately, the Rangers could be chasing them to no avail. Something else they’ll have to keep an eye on is the Southeast Division race. The Washington Capitals and Winnipeg Jets are battling it out for 3rd, but the loser of that race is very much in the mix for the 8th spot.
Cold Shoulder on the Rangers Outdoor Games
A report came out earlier in the week that the NHL could be planning six outdoor games next season to build on their Winter Classic franchise. Part of the plan was having the Rangers host two games in a row at Yankee Stadium (one against the Devils, one against the Islanders). I’ll save my thoughts on how having that many games dilutes the specialness of the Winter Classic, but NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman should have checked on what’s going on in New York City that week. MetLife Stadium in New Jersey just happens to be hosting something called the “Super Bowl” the Sunday after those two games.
Over the years, the Super Bowl has grown in to more than a one day event. For any city that is hosting it, it’s basically a week-long party. This will be the first time that New York City hosts a Super Bowl, and the bulk of the media attention will be towards that, not the dual-bill outdoor Rangers games in The Bronx. As much as I love hockey, the NHL CANNOT compete with the NFL on its best day. Part of the idea of the Winter Classic/outdoor games is to grow the game amongst the casual sports fan. That isn’t going to happen when you put one of your marquee events it in the same city as Super Bowl week. It would make matters even worse if the New York Giants became the first team in NFL history to participate in the Super Bowl in their home stadium (suggesting the Jets as having that potential is laughable – and I’m a die-hard Jets fan). The Rangers have waited this long to host an outdoor game, what’s another year?