While many Rangers fans have packed up their hopes for the playoffs and shifted their focus towards the NHL Entry Draft, the Rangers don’t seem willing to head to the golf course without a fight.
On Wednesday night they completely manhandled the Islanders in their 5-0 victory at the Garden and moved within five points of the Boston Bruins, who occupy the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
As impressive as the stats read, however, there is no denying that the opponents made it really easy on the Rangers.
The Islanders simply didn’t have much fight in them, and they allowed the Rangers to take control right from the start. In fact, the Islanders gave the Rangers so few problems that Coach John Tortorella stuck with the same lines that he started the game with, for the most part.
That phenomenon has become something of a rarity this season, with Torts drawing the ire of many fans for his tendency to shake up lines at the first sign of trouble.
Leading the way for the Rangers were Marian Gaborik and Sean Avery , who also happened to be the first and second stars, respectively.
Anyone who has watched the team consistently this season knows that Gaborik’s play took a noticeable hit after Feb. 9, when the Slovakian Olympian suffered a groin laceration in practice in a collision with Henrik Lundqvist .
Wednesday was the best Gaborik has looked since, with two goals and an assist on five shots. It’s hard to say if the performance had more to do with his injuries healing or the poor play on the part of the Islanders. Hopefully, at least as far as the Rangers’ playoff chances are concerned, it was a combination of the two.
Gaborik’s skating was noticeably better. He looked strong on his skates and his balance seemed to be back up to snuff. His passing also was crisper than it has been since he returned from the Olympic break. His assist on Michael Del Zotto ’s goal, the third of the game, was the kind of perfect pass the Rangers and their fans had gotten used to seeing from Gaborik in the first half of the season.
Many fans also will note that all season long, Avery has looked a bit confused. Confused as to what his role is and confused as far as just how close to the proverbial line he should be playing.
Some nights he’s looked like a different man. Lifeless. “Neutered” is another word that’s been thrown around. Since being a healthy scratch against Atlanta on March 12, however, Avery seems to be returning to form.
Wednesday night was one of Avery’s best efforts of the season. Not only did The Grate One do just the right amount of agitating and pestering, but he also played smart hockey. Away from the penalties, the scrums and the sideshow, No. 16 simply played well, and that makes him twice as dangerous.
Rookies Artem Anisimov and Del Zotto also stood out with strong games, particularly in the offensive zone. Anisimov, demoted to the fourth line by Tortorella, played one of his strongest games of the past month, making smart plays with his stick and finding the right spots to create scoring chances. Del Zotto, his power play goal aside, did an impressive job of distributing the puck, a lot like he did earlier in the season.
The Rangers, currently in 10th place and two points back of Atlanta for ninth place in the Eastern Conference, travel to New Jersey to take on the Devils on Thursday night at 7 p.m.