Rangers have gone from game to game all year long. This approach, nurtured by coach Gerard Gallant and embraced by the team, generated one of the most pleasantly surprising seasons in the history of the franchise. With less than a week left, he has the eighth best record in the league.
They also still have a chance of a Metro Division title, as long as it becomes a weekend that saw the Hurricanes sweep two games and end Rangers’ four-game winning streak with that defeat in Boston on Saturday.
But with the Blueshirts’ tragic number of eliminations reduced to two points ahead of Tuesday’s clash with Canes at the Garden – which means the Rangers will need to sweep their last three games while the Carolinas collect no more than one point. In the last two competitions – it’s time for Galant and the organization to expand their focus.
For this final week, it should be about one thing and one thing only, which is protecting the Rangers and preparing them for the playoff matches. It’s about minimizing risks, not maximizing wins. If that means a last-minute sacrifice in first place and an extra home game in the second round, so be it.
Once Andrew Cobb, Kaku Kaku and Philip Chettle are deemed ready to go, Rangers will have four more strikers, and possibly more if the club calls up additional players from the AHL Wolf Pack now that their season is over without qualifying in the playoffs. It’s time to put spare parts in the lineup. There are also two additional Health Defenses on the list, a number that could at least double. Time to get your spare D on the ice, too.
In other sports, this wouldn’t just be a debate. It will be automatic. On their account, our other major professional sports leagues have been hit by load management. The NHL is still a very masculine culture for that. If you ask, you’re probably on your way out for good. It’s a badge of honor to play in all 82 games. In 2013-14, Dan Girardi was resting for game 82 in Montreal after playing his first 81. He was boiling.
But since Rangers have the Canadians in the garden on Wednesday to complete a back-to-back game before facing the Capitals in Friday’s regular season final, it’s not necessarily about giving players a rest, even if there are only two or two. Three days turning in the playoffs. It’s about doing as much as possible to protect them from injury.
In addition, there is an interesting scenario in the Friday night match against Washington. A Rangers victory would likely mean a first-round showdown against the Penguins while a defeat would likely mean a first-round showdown against the Caps.
I get it. You can call me panicked. You can call me a maniac. You can call me anything you want. But if I’m running Rangers, there’s no chance that I’ll play Artemi Panarin in that game on Friday, no matter what the ramifications are in the standings. I would be very careful with Adam Fox and Mika Zibanijad. I’ll have all my spare parts and calls in there for that.
It’s not that I don’t trust Panarin – who, to complicate matters, was only four points away from getting to the 100th circle before the Carolina game – or Fox or Zibanegad, but I don’t trust Tom Wilson. Legal restrictions prevent me from accusing the Washington Wing of intentionally and intentionally harming opponents, but I’m sure I didn’t see him play with conscience. Almost a year later This thing has a chance to take a full turn. The last thing Rangers need is to get caught in a scene that results in injuries or suspension.
I suppose there is another aspect to this, which is that the Rangers may be seen to have gone too far, which could become a topic during a hypothetical playoff against Washington. I imagine in the manly corners of the hockey collective mind, Rangers might take that into account though they should know that while sticks and head injuries can break their bones and brains, words can never hurt them.
But the only consideration now until Friday is how this week will affect the next. Rangers have played well enough, consistently enough, deep enough into the season to have long laid the foundation for the playoffs. It is no longer a matter of game to game.
At the moment, it’s about Game 1.