After the NHL Deadline: Five Ways the Rangers Can Make It into the Playoffs

S BCorrespondent IMarch 4, 2010

NEW YORK - JANUARY 25:  Michael Del Zotto #4 of the New York Rangers skates against the Pittsburgh Penguins skates against on January 25, 2010 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Penguins defeated the Rangers 4-2.  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
Mike Stobe/Getty Images

It was a quiet trade deadline for the Rangers and for most of the NHL.

The biggest move the Rangers made was grabbing defenseman Anders Eriksson from Phoenix for goaltender Miika Wiikman and a seventh round selection in the 2011 draft.

They also traded AHL players Jordan Owens for Kris Newbury.

So the Rangers stand tied for the final playoff spot with less than 20 games left in the season, no significant help on the way, and Marian Gaborik out with a tweaked groin.

Still, having said all that, the Rangers can make a strong push into the playoffs. Here are five ways they can solidify their place.

5. Make Marc Staal and Dan Girardi the permanent shut-down defensive pair.

Staal and Girardi have occasionally spent time together as a shut-down pair, playing against opponents top lines and making sure no one gets too out of hand in terms of goal-scoring.

Coach John Tortorella doesn't always use the two defensemen together for purely defensive purposes. But with the Rangers struggling offense, it's time to admit this is a team that's only going to win games when they smother opposing teams defensively.

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Tortorella doesn't have to match forwards against forwards, but he should at least make sure his two best defensemen are always out against opponents' top lines.

4. Give Chris Drury a job.

Drury came out of a strong Olympics mostly due to Team USA Coach Ron Wilson giving Drury some clearly defined responsibilities: forecheck hard, win faceoffs, and make life difficult for opponents wherever possible. Drury was asked to do everything but score and with the pressure of scoring gone, Drury actually scored.

Now, back in New York, Tortorella needs to give Drury the same responsibilities. Drury needs to be used defensively and freed of all scoring responsibilities. And hopefully, with the pressure off of Drury's shoulders, he'll find scoring opportunities, just like he did in Vancouver.

And if Drury doesn't score, at least he's keeping opponents off balance. There's some value in that action alone.

3. Make the defense younger.

The Rangers already have a young defense. Remove the struggling Michal Rozsival and Wade Redden from the line-up, and their oldest defenseman is just 25. And now it's time to give those young defensemen the keys to the Ranger kingdom, in the form of minutes.

Redden and Rozsival need to sit. Maybe not nightly, but frequently, so that players like Michael Del Zotto and Matt Gilroy can get experience. But Tortorella also needs to bring up some of his young AHL defensemen.

Why not see what Corey Potter, Michael Sauer, Ilkka Heikkinen, and even Bobby Sanguinetti can do with regular NHL minutes. Even new acquisition Eriksson has some NHL experience.

Why not see how he does in New York?

None of those AHLers can be that much worse than Redden and Rozsival. The fact that the two senior defensemen have huge contracts doesn't mean they deserve a permanent place in the Rangers line-up.

2. Rest goalie Henrik Lundqvist.

Lundqvist has played in 55 of the Rangers first 63 games. Only Martin Brodeur and Jonathan Quick have played more games this year. On top of those 55 games, Lundqvist is coming out of the Olympics.

Last season, Lundqvist played 70 games and the season before it was 72. It's just a huge workload. Eventually Lundqvist will buckle under all of the playing time.

If the Rangers want Lundqvist to last, not just into the playoffs, but long-term, they need to get him some help.

The Rangers claimed Alex Auld off of re-entry waivers. He's a solid, if unspectacular, NHL goalie.

He needs some starts so Lundqvist can rest.

The Rangers might be able to ride a tired Lundqvist into the playoffs, but what's the point if Lundqvist then finds himself too tired to play well?

1. Go to the net.

Every NHL telecast features someone lauding the benefits of going to the net. It's a cliche, but it's also true.

The Rangers lack finesse. The only way they're going to be able to score consistently down the stretch and in the playoffs are by going to the net, creating traffic in front of opposing goalies, and knocking in any loose pucks they can find.

The Rangers went to the net Tuesday night against Ottawa and wound up with four goals, an amazing feat given Marian Gaborik was out of the line-up.

Also, by creating traffic in front of the net, there's more of an opportunity for their defensemen to get some goals off of deflections.

Historically, the Rangers haven't gone to the net since Adam Graves left. Tuesday night's performance in the Ottawa crease was a revelation. It's a performance they'll need to repeat if they want to make a serious playoff run.

But if they can make it a regular part of their game, the Rangers should find themselves coasting into the playoffs.

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