By Steve Silverman
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The Rangers are coming off a 4-1 win over the Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center, and that means they have regained home-ice advantage in their first-round series and are once again in a position to dictate the outcome of the series.
So that means everything is fine in the Rangers’ world, and there’s every reason to believe that they will advance to the second round where they will have little trouble taking care of business against Pittsburgh or Columbus, right?
Not so fast, my friends. The Rangers have not come close to finding their playoff stride and if anything close to satisfaction is starting to creep in, Alain Vigneault’s team is in severe trouble.
The Rangers have won two of the first three games in this series and responded after losing Game 2 at home. That’s nice, but the big problem was the loss at Madison Square Garden. There was something about that game that demonstrated the Rangers were not prepared to play the highest level of playoff hockey.
That they were able to respond in Philadelphia was a good sign, but the Flyers are not the kind of competition that the Rangers have to get ready for in the upcoming rounds.
They need to be prepared for the Penguins at their best or a very feisty Columbus team. Then, if the Rangers can get past either one of those teams, the hard work will come against a team like Boston, Montreal or possibly Detroit.
Take a look at the Canadiens. There really wasn’t a lot of difference between Montreal (100 points) and the Rangers (96 points) during the regular season. The Canadiens had an up-and-down season, but finished on an 8-2-1 tear.
When the playoffs started last week, the Canadiens played as if they were shot out of a gun. They won the first two games of their series with the Lightning in Tampa, and then went home and finished off the sweep. They were the first team to get through their opening-round series and will play the winner of Boston-Detroit in the next round.
The Canadiens have played as if they can still taste last season’s postseason embarrassment in the back of their throats. They lost to Ottawa in five games. They were basically overwhelmed by a hungrier team.
Now Montreal is the hungry team.
That’s how a team is supposed to play in the postseason. The Rangers seem happy to still be playing and they probably have more than enough to get by Philadelphia, but they have not looked overly hungry.
They turned it on Tuesday night when they were coming off a home loss, but that does not necessarily mean great things are on the horizon.
The best thing about the Rangers’ postseason performance thus far has been the play of Marty St. Louis. He scored his second goal of the series in Philadelphia and that means he has scored more postseason goals (two) than he did during the regular season (one). St. Louis, despite his lack of physical size, is the type of player that can carry the Rangers a long way when he gets hot. He may not be there yet, but he is warming up.
The Rangers should have the wherewithal thanks to St. Louis, Henrik Lundqvist, Brad Richards, Rick Nash and Derek Stepan to get through to the next round.
Even though the Penguins have had their usual moments of angst in the opening round, you have to expect them to get past the Blue Jackets. If so, that would set up a battle with the Rangers.
The Rangers should be able to win that series, but it won’t happen unless they up their competitive fire and start playing the way the Canadiens did in the first round.
That was playoff urgency, and that’s what the Rangers need.
Follow Steve on Twitter at @ProFootballBoy
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