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Complete Guide to the New York Rangers' Playoff Push

Jeremy FuchsCorrespondent IIIOctober 10, 2016

Complete Guide to the New York Rangers' Playoff Push

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    The NHL season is coming to an end, and the New York Rangers are battling for their playoff lives.

    Currently, the Rangers sit in eighth place in the Eastern Conference, with 44 points and seven games left to play.

    What do the Rangers need to do to play in the postseason? What teams are ahead of them and what teams are chasing them? What does the Rangers' remaining schedule look like? And which players need to come up big?

    Read on to find a complete guide to the New York Rangers' playoff push. 

The Teams Involved

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    There are three teams fighting for two spots at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. The New York Islanders, Rangers and Winnipeg Jets are all within striking distance.

    Currently, the Islanders have the seventh seed, with 47 points. The Rangers have the eighth seed but have played one less game than the Islanders and have 46 points. The Jets are sitting in ninth with 44 points.

    There are a few teams on the periphery. The New Jersey Devils have 40 points, but without a huge late-season push, the playoffs seem like a bit of a reach. 

    The Rangers are also in reach of the Ottawa Senators, who have 48 points and are in sixth place in the conference.

    The biggest concern for the Rangers is probably the Jets, since they sit behind New York. Winnipeg has six games left, including three against teams that are not in the playoffs. The Jets have an easy schedule—if they capitalize, then they leave the Rangers little room for error.

    If the Rangers can win out, then there's no issue. But with so many teams in the mix, the Rangers have to be at their best. There is simply no room for a bad game. 

Remaining Schedule

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    The Rangers have seven games left in the season, and none of those games are against teams that are in the playoffs.

    The Rangers have two games against the New Jersey Devils and two games against the last-place Florida Panthers

    They also play against Buffalo, Carolina, and Philadelphia.

    The Rangers are 2-1 against the Flyers this season, including probably their best win of the season, a 5-2 thrashing on March 26. 

    They are also 2-0 against Carolina, including a game where Henrik Lundqvist had 48 stops on 49 attempts.

    The Rangers had a bad loss against Florida, where they lost 3-1 and looked generally awful. It was one of their worst performances of the year. 

    Finally, the Blueshirts are 1-1 against the Sabres.

    On talent, the Rangers are better than all these teams. Florida and Carolina are among the worst teams in the league. The Devils are 0-5-4 in their last nine games. While they always play the Rangers tough, this is not the same Devils team of years past.

    The Rangers, by any conservative estimate, probably need 10 points to ensure a playoff spot. That would mean either five wins, or some combination of overtime/shootout losses.

    With this schedule, it is certainly doable. This schedule is really easy, and if the Rangers are playing their best, they could easily finish the year on a nine-game winning streak. 

    That probably won't happen. But 10 points is achievable, and the Rangers are lucky to have the easiest stretch of their schedule when they need it most. 

Key Players

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    If the Rangers want to make the playoffs, then they're going to need their best players to come up big.

    That starts with Henrik Lundqvist. He has been on fire of late, with a .948 save percentage in the month of April.

    Lundqvist has his typically great stats on the year, with a stingy 2.06 goals-against average and a .928 save percentage. For comparison, when he won the Vezina Trophy last season, he had a .930 save percentage and a 1.97 goals-against average. In fact, his numbers make this the second-best season of his illustrious career.

    If he can continue to play like this, then there's no reason why the Rangers wouldn't make the playoffs. He is the ultimate key for this team's success—he always has been, and he always will be.

    Rick Nash has been everything the Rangers have hoped for and more. He has 35 points in 37 games and has five points in the month of April. If he continues to play well, then the Rangers will be on track for the playoffs.

    The defense, as a whole, has been terrific this year.

    The team gives up only 2.2 goals per game, which is fourth best in the league. They've done that even without Marc Staal, who is out indefinitely with an eye injury. Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh have been terrific, and Steve Eminger, who has filled in for Staal, has been a huge boon for this team. 

    Michael Del Zotto has improved his defensive play, while Anton Stralman has been solid. New addition John Moore has had ups and downs, but he is a good skater.

    If the defense can continue its top play for the rest of the season, then the team should make the playoffs. If it plays poorly, like it has in two recent games against Toronto, then the Rangers will have to hope for some high-scoring games.

    That's a problem, because the Rangers average only 2.3 goals per game, which is 25th in the league. That's why the Rangers defense needs to finish the season strong and play more like it did in the last game against the Islanders, where it did not let up a goal. 

Outlook

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    The Rangers are in a pretty good position, all things considered. They have seven games remaining, all against teams that are not in the playoffs. It doesn't get much better than that.

    Of course, they have to capitalize on that to make it worth something. There's plenty of reason to believe that they will succeed.

    The Rangers are 5-1-1 in the month of April, and 4-1-1 since the Marian Gaborik trade. Lundqvist has been terrific, and the team is starting to resemble last year's version. They are more aggressive, more physical and play with an edge. If the Rangers want to go anywhere in the playoffs, then they have to play this style.

    That said, the Rangers have been up and down all year. They might have seven relatively easy games remaining, but this is a team that has lost to Buffalo by a score of 3-1, Florida 3-1 and at one point lost four in a row.

    The Rangers need to play their best hockey if they want to make the playoffs. They have shown flashes of it. But the next seven games need to be consistent if they want to make the postseason.

    All things considered, it does seem like the Rangers will make the playoffs, either as the seventh or eighth seed, depending on what the Islanders do. The Blueshirts are too talented and are playing against teams that have nothing to play for.

    If they do make the playoffs, it is a team that is constructed to advance far. Lundqvist can carry this team anywhere, and it has a top defense and an improving penalty kill. With big-time scoring from Rick Nash and enough grit, it could turn into something special.

    But the team can't get ahead of itself. There are seven games to go, seven games to determine if this season will be a success or failure. The Rangers control their own destiny. The odds are in their favor. Now they just have to get it done on the ice. 

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