It's been a long roller coaster ride for the New York Rangers and now it all comes down to this. Nine games left, all from the Atlantic Division.
The eastern conference playoff race has been tighter than a spring and the Rangers helped their own cause by going 16-5-3 in their last 24 games. They are holding on to sixth place with 85 points, only two points back from the fifth place Ottawa Senators and only five points from the first place Devils.
With the possible 18 points up for grabs, the Rangers have a chance to move on up in the eastern conference but it has to start somewhere and that somewhere is tonight against the New Jersey Devils. Martin Broudeurs' Devils are coming of a huge win over the Colorado Avalanche and are 14-4-3 since February second. The only problem is that New Jersey hasn't been able to find a way to beat the Rangers.
Rangers, who are 5-0 against the Devils, can expect a physical, hardworking game against a defensive-minded Devils team. The blue shirts success seems to come from shooting the puck and driving to net causing big rebounds but Marty Brodeur might have something other to say about that with his 40 wins and 2.15 goals against average.
"I build my career and the way I play around being consistent," said Brodeur. "I play a lot of games, my teammates expect me to win 40 games. They (goals) are nice to accomplish, but your team has got to be a big part of it also."
The Devils need to sustain a high pressure offensive game against the rangers to stand a chance. We all know Marty will be there giving his team a chance to win. Maybe the five losses to the Rangers will play a big part in their game play tonight.
The keys for a Rangers victory is simple.
Smart defense. Rangers need to play tight defense for 60 minutes and keep the play out of their own zone. Also they need to keep the Devils play to the outside by banging bodies.
Good puck management. The blue shirts must stay away from blind passes and turn overs as the fast paced Devils can easily turn a mistake by the Rangers in to a goal.
Stay out of the sin bin. No more stupid penalties. When games are tight, the Rangers usually give their opponents the edge by taking unnecessary offensive penalty's.
Keep it simple. Rangers need to take more low shots from the point, and drive to the net more often. (I can't stress this enough.) Doing so will lead to rebounds and eventual goals. Have someone in front of the net at all times.
Two way hockey. The blue shirts must have a quick transition game from defense to offense, offense to defense.
Power play—I think the blue shirts forgot what this word means. Yes, that's right I said it. The Rangers need to shoot more when they are a man or two advantage.
Tonight's game is going to be an early preview of whats in store for the playoffs. With big hits and lots of fights, Both teams know how important these two points are and in the end it will come down to whoever wants it more.