By Brian Monzo
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The Rangers and Penguins have both played 75 games this season.
For the better part of 2011-12, the Rangers have been atop the Eastern Conference. However, the Penguins have gone on a crazy run in their last 15 games and the Rangers have been good — not great — allowing the Penguins to come within merely one point (101 for NYR, 100 for Pens) with seven games left.
It will be the Rangers or Penguins as the first seed in the East, with the other team likely having the fourth seed, behind the other division winners.
Tonight the Rangers have a very winnable game against the low-scoring, struggling Minnesota Wild. The Penguins will host the New York Islanders. Boy, could the Rangers use a favor from their biggest rivals.
Despite losing games to the Penguins, Avalanche and Sabres (and some wins sprinkled in between), I have like the way the Rangers have been playing. For the first time all season, the Rangers are creating the most opportunities they have offensively. The defense is consistently joining the rush.
Ryan McDonagh has shown glimpses of having real offensive potential. Rookie Tim Erixon in his recent call-up has turned his game up a notch, and looks as smooth as anyone on the ice. We all know what Michael Del Zotto can do with the puck, and Dan Girardi has been looking for any excuse to shoot the puck.
That said, when the defense crashes the net, occasionally that leads to odd man rushes for the other team. That was the formula that lead to a loss to the Sabres last week.
I would like to see John Tortorella keep the Brad Richards, Marian Gaborik and Carl Hagelin line together. Tortorella loves mixes lines almost every game, but forming that line for those few games seemed to have turned Richards around, and keeping him at this level is vital as the playoffs approach.
Brandon Dubinsky, who has been offensively invisible almost all season, is playing his best hockey when it matters. He is doing something right now that good players do: making the players around him better. This is what has been expected from him all season. For the Rangers, Dubinsky turning it on now could be huge at this point.
Minus some disaster happening the last seven games, having Ryan Callahan around in the playoffs will make a world of difference compared to last season when he was out with the broken ankle. As shown in their last game, he constantly blocks shots, hits bodies and scores big goals (shootout winner). His value is priceless.
The Penguins have Evgeni Malkin playing at an MVP-like level and Sidney Crosby is healthy. It’s hard to figure out how to stop them. However, one thing always seems to work — hit them hard. It’s something that is obviously easier said then done. If any team, including the Rangers has any shot of beating the revamped Penguins, that’s how it is going to get done.
Up one point, the Rangers need to win tonight — and while not as vital, a little help from the Islanders would be nice.
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Islanders fans, does it burn you that winning against Pittsburgh would help the Rangers immensely? Sound off below…