Rangers have gone from game to game throughout the year. This approach, encouraged by head coach Gerard Gallant and embraced by the team, has resulted in one of the most pleasant surprise seasons in franchise history. It’s less than a week and the Blueshirts have the eighth best record in the league.
They also still have a shot at the Metro Division title as long as it lasted over the weekend, which included a two-game sweep by the Hurricanes and ended the Rangers’ four-game winning streak with that meh loss in Boston on Saturday included .
But with the tragic tally of blueshirts for first-place elimination reduced to two points ahead of Tuesday’s confrontation with the ‘Canes at the Garden’, Rangers would need to win their last three games, while Carolina can’t get more than a point in his last two competitions – it’s time for Gallant and the organization to broaden their focus.
Because this final week should be about one thing, and that’s protecting and preparing Rangers for the playoffs. It’s about minimizing risk, not maximizing wins. If that means sacrificing a last-minute run for first place and an extra home game in round two, so be it.
Once Andrew Copp, Kaapo Kakko and Filip Chytil are deemed ready, Rangers will have four additional forwards, possibly even more if the club recalls additional players from the AHL Wolf Pack after their season ended without a playoff qualification. It’s time to add the spare parts to the lineup. There are also two particularly healthy defenders on the list, a number that could at least double. It’s time to get the replacement D on the ice too.
In other sports, this wouldn’t even be a discussion. It would be automatic. To their detriment, our other major professional sports leagues have been infected by load management. The NHL is still too macho-cultural for that. If you’re asking on a date, you’re probably on your way out forever. It’s a badge of honor to play all 82 games. In 2013-14, Dan Girardi was rested for Game 82 in Montreal after playing the first 81. he cooked
But with the Rangers having the Canadiens at the Garden on Wednesday for a back-to-back duel before taking on the Capitals in Friday’s regular-season finals, it’s not necessarily about giving players rest, even if it might just be A two or three day turnaround gives the playoffs. It’s about doing as much as possible to protect them from injury.
Additionally, an intriguing scenario is in play for Friday night’s game against Washington. It’s possible that a Rangers win could mean a first-round matchup against the Penguins, while a loss could mean a first-round matchup against the Caps.
I get it. You can call me an alarmist. You can call me obsessed. You can call me whatever you want. But if I was managing Rangers, I wouldn’t play Artemi Panarin in Friday’s game, regardless of the standings impact. I would be very careful with Adam Fox and Mika Zibanejad. I’d have all my spares and enlistments for that one in there.
It’s not that I don’t trust Panarin — who, to complicate matters, was only four points from making the 100 circle before the Carolina game — or Fox or Zibanejad, but it’s that I do Don’t trust Tom Wilson. Legal restrictions prevent me from accusing the Washington winger of intentionally and knowingly injuring opponents, but I’ve certainly never seen him play with a conscience. Almost a full year later, this thing has a chance to close. The last thing Rangers need is to get caught up in a scene that leads to injuries or suspensions.
I suppose there’s another side to the Rangers being perceived as extremely turbulent, which could become an issue during a hypothetical playoff matchup against Washington. I imagine the Rangers in the macho corners of hockey’s collective consciousness might take this into account, even though they should know that sticks and headshots can break their bones and brains, but words can never hurt them.
But the only consideration from now through Friday should be how this week will affect next week. Rangers have played well enough, consistently enough, deep enough into the season to have laid a foundation for the playoffs long ago. It’s no longer game to game.
It’s game 1 at the moment.
https://nypost.com/2022/04/26/rangers-must-prioritize-health-over-division-as-nhl-playoffs-loom/ Rangers must prioritize health over division as the NHL playoffs loom