Coming in to this shortened 2013 NHL regular season, there were high hopes for the New York Rangers. Many of the prognosticators had them going deep in to the playoffs as a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. If someone had postulated back in January that the Rangers would be battling the Winnipeg Jets to stay out of 11th place in the East late in February, most would have assumed that person was smoking something beyond tobacco. That pipe dream (or pipe nightmare for the Garden Faithful) became a reality, and the Rangers now find themselves three points from the basement of the Eastern Conference.
Winnipeg came in to Madison Square Garden having won three of their past four games on their five game road trip. The Rangers came in on a three game losing streak, with only one point earned since their 2-1 victory over the Washington Capitals on February 17th. After a relatively uneventful 1st period, the Jets scored two quick goals about six minutes in to the 2nd period. Off-season acquisition Olli Jokinen and winger Evander Kane lit the lamp 1:07 apart from one another to give Winnipeg a 2-0 lead. Rangers Captain Ryan Callahan answered back 2:26 later to cut the Rangers deficit to one. Jokinen would get Winnipeg’s two-goal lead back with his 5th of the season at 14:48 of the frame.
Midway through the 3rd period, Taylor Pyatt would get the Rangers back to within a goal on a deflection from Anton Stralman. Once again, the Jets would regain their two goal lead quickly, as Evander Kane scored his 2nd goal of the game 20 seconds later (both Kane goals were bullets). Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist made a partial save, but the puck trickled through. 53 seconds later, Stralman brought the Rangers back within a goal on a low shot that found it’s way through traffic. New York received a power play opportunity to tie the game at 13:51 of the period on a Jim Slater holding penalty. But the league’s worst Penalty Kill unit (70%) held the fort, and Winnipeg wrapped up their road trip with a 4-3 win.
Calling the Winnipeg game a “must-win” is a bit of a stretch, but that game opened a four game set at MSG against teams ranked 8th or lower in the East. If you ‘re a “glass is half-full” person, the Rangers are a .500 team (8-8-2) with 30 games remaining. That’s still a lot of time to get on a roll and right the ship. But if you’re a “glass is half-empty” person, they’re only one point out of the Atlantic Division basement, and trail the Pittsburgh Penguins by eight points for the division lead. I don’t think any sports enthusiast likes the “Chicken Little fan” that’s always worrying and expecting the worst. The sky isn’t falling yet, but the clouds are starting to look heavy.