4 Most Important Games Remaining on the Rangers Schedule

Andrew Capitelli@@acapitelliContributor IMarch 15, 2013

4 Most Important Games Remaining on the Rangers Schedule

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    The New York Rangers may have just passed the midway point of their 2013 NHL calendar, but there's only 22 games left and the playoff sprint is on.

    Every game and every point is important, especially against other teams in the hunt. Those become four point games and are absolutely crucial for the Rangers to win if they're going to qualify for the playoffs. 

    Furthermore, this shortened season does not include inter-conference play, and that places even more significance on each and every game. With fifth place and tenth place separated by only seven points in the Eastern Conference before play on Thursday night, it's possible that we see some dramatic changes in the standings before season's end. 

    Naturally, though, when you take a look at the remaining games for the Rangers, it's clear some are bigger than others. These are the games the Rangers need to win. 

    After the jump, we'll discuss these four games and what makes them so important. 

March 16 at Pittsburgh

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    After Thursday night's game in Winnipeg, the Rangers will head down to Pittsburgh for an Atlantic Division showdown with the Penguins on Saturday afternoon.

    Though it's pretty clear the Rangers will not catch Pittsburgh in the standings, this game can be used as a measuring stick, to see where the Rangers are with just over 20 games to go.

    Sidney Crosby has been the hottest player in the NHL, and if the Rangers can shut him and Chris Kunitz down it would be impressive, and maybe give them some confidence going into the stretch run. 

    This game is also in Pittsburgh, one of the most difficult places to play in the league. Given the Rangers' sub-par road play, this will game will present itself as a great test.

    Lastly, the Rangers may be in ninth, but you can guarantee the mindset in that locker room is one of a top Eastern Conference team and a Stanley Cup contender. Early struggles and inconsistency have put them in a dogfight to make the playoffs, but this team is built to win, and the Rangers will head into this one as if the division title was on the line. 

    This game isn't just about the two points, it's also about a message. Can the Rangers send that message to the rest of the East? 

April 8 at Toronto

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    The Toronto Maple Leafs currently occupy the seventh spot in the East and are three points ahead of the Rangers with two additional games played. 

    And of the teams still sitting in a playoff spot, you'd have to imagine the Leafs are the prime candidates to fall out of the race. If the Rangers can pick up these two points, without allowing their opponents the opportunity to grab an additional point, it could have serious playoff implications.

    The Rangers won the only previous meeting of this season 5-2 in late January. Picking up victories in both meetings this season would be huge for the Rangers, because not only do two victories provide them with four points and their opponents zero, but head-to-head could be an eventual tiebreaker if these two teams end up tied in points and regulation only wins (ROW). 

    The Rangers already lost their two matchups with the Ottawa Senators, a team that is sitting in fifth place at the moment, They can't afford to continue to lose points to teams sitting in fifth, sixth and seventh places.

    This is also another road game, and it's in Toronto. The Rangers need to pick up two points here. 

April 13 at New York Islanders

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    It looks like this year the Islanders will make a serious push to make the playoffs. The question will be whether or not the Rangers can fend off the tenth place Islanders, who currently have 27 points, only one less than the Rangers with an additional game played.

    They're 2-0-1 against the Islanders this season, and in their last meeting on March 7, the Rangers were able to rescue two points in dramatic fashion. 

    April 13 will be their final meeting of the season, and you can bet the Nassau Coliseum will be rocking. 

    Not only will this game have obvious playoff seeding implications, but it will also have the atmosphere of a playoff game. It will give the Rangers a chance to get used to that playoff feel, as the energy from the fans will no doubt pour onto the ice. 

    Depending on how things go over the next month, this could be a game in which the Rangers put the Islanders out of serious contention for a playoff spot.

    But it could also be a disaster for the Rangers if they lose it. Allowing the Islanders to inch any closer than they already are is a mistake the Rangers may not be able to overcome. 

April 27 vs. New Jersey

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    It was almost three years ago that the Rangers lost to the Philadelphia Flyers in a shootout that decided which team would make the playoffs. It was the first time in NHL history that occurred and, as all Rangers fans know, the Flyers went on to make it all the way to the Cup Finals.

    This year the Rangers finish up the season at home versus the New Jersey Devils, and if you take a peek at the standings, it would seem there's a possibility of something similar happening this season.

    The Devils sit in sixth, three points ahead of the Rangers, although they've played one more game. They're going to meet three more times before the end of the season but, because everyone is expecting these two teams to stay competitive for the remainder of the year, this final meeting, which is season finale for both teams, could be make or break for one of them. 

    The good news for the Rangers is this is a home game, and the Rangers have performed significantly better at MSG than they have on the road. 

    These two teams hate each other, and the Rangers still remember what happened last spring, when the Devils eliminated them from the playoffs in the Eastern Conference Finals. So if one of, or both of, these teams' seasons are on the line, it goes without saying that this will be the most important game of the year.