Thursday, April 1, 2010
No April Fool's: Luck falls Rangers' way
On a day the Rangers stayed home and prayed for good results, they got exactly what they coveted on April Fool's Day no less. Not only was the Spring weather a welcome sight but the scoreboard was as well with the Islanders, Panthers and Capitals all cooperating to aid the idle Broadway club whose fate might get determined in sunny Florida this weekend.
First, the Panthers came into Beantown and dealt the Bruins a crushing 1-0 shutout loss thanks to clutch netminding from former Devil Scott Clemmensen, who turned aside all 36 shots in support of Keith Ballard's early goal. While that was taking place, the Rangers' No.1 rival the Islanders did something they hadn't in over two years. Beat the Flyers. Scott Gordon's club snapped a 15-game winless streak (0-12-3) in fine style by lighting the lamp six times in a 6-4 home win. On the strength of two more Blake Comeau tallies, they quickly jumped out to a 4-0 lead. Ex-Isle Arron Asham got one back but Trent Hunter's ninth early in the third chased Brian Boucher, who permitted five goals on 24 shots. Jon Sim added his 12th which proved too much for a desperate Philly team to overcome as they fell to former netminder Martin Biron (31 saves).
The hat trick saw Eastern leader Washington snap a three-game skid by edging divisional rival Atlanta 2-1. Matt Bradley's third period marker along with Semyon Varlamov's 19 stops were the difference, preventing the ninth Thrashers from making it a four-way log jam for the final three spots occupied by the Flyers, Canadiens and Bruins. A huge dent to Atlanta's chances with only four games left all against stiff competition getting Pitt twice, the Devils and the same Caps.
As it stands right now, Philadelphia still is in sixth by virtue of one more win (38) than seventh Montreal, whose 37 are two better than eighth Boston. The trio remain stuck on 82 points with the Thrash's 80 two off the pace and the Rangers trailing by four. However, it's not that simple. With the Hurricanes gaining a point in a tough 2-1 overtime loss to Ottawa who clinched tonight and are just three behind fourth New Jersey, Paul Maurice's club sits 10th with 76 points. Starting with the Devils visiting Raleigh Saturday, they'll need to run the table with Tampa, Montreal and Boston on tap. Imagine if that 4/10 matinee at Boston meant something. Highly unlikely but you never know. Even the Islanders, Panthers and Lightning are still alive but can only get to 84 and need plenty of help to pull off a miracle.
Meanwhile, the Rangers now know that a successful two days in Florida means they likely are very much in play. True enough, they're 3-0-1 over the last four with just that devastating OT loss to the Leafs preventing a four-game win streak. Brownie points won't work anymore. It's all about the 'W.' Can an inconsistent team that according to WFAN talkie Steve Somers owns the second worst record next to Edmonton since their 7-1-0 start really put it all together with it all on the line? Conventional wisdom says no because they've failed to deliver. Flat performances in do-or-die spots versus Montreal, Boston and even St. Louis leave plenty of doubt. Hell. That first period against the Islanders before they woke up was an abomination. With six games remaining, they actually have more margin to work with, especially finishing with a home-and-home versus the hated Flyers. However, it won't come easy.
Bottom line. You just don't know what you'll get each night. This is a team capable of beating better competition and then falling on its ass against lightweights. Who knows what to expect tomorrow in Tampa? They better remember to check Steven Stamkos or it could be "lights out." The Panthers have always given them trouble. So, that sure ain't a gimme. Get through it and they conclude with four games in six including a challenging three in four beginning Tuesday in Buffalo with the pesky Leafs the following night back at MSG along with the first of two versus the Flyers on Friday 4/9. The final game is Sunday 4/11 at 3 ET in enemy territory.
Fasten your seatbelts. It could be a wild ride.