A snowy Tuesday morning probably began like any other for Alain Vigneault, who usually arises and takes a gander at the league table.
“Every day when I get up I look at the standings,” the Rangers coach says. “I’m assuming if you’re a hockey player you do the same thing. It’s a real competitive division that we’re in and there’s still a lot of hockey left to be played.”
Where the Rangers will end up and should want to end up has certainly been a hot topic among outsiders. It’s long been thought that the Rangers (44-24-2, 90 points) staying right where they are in the first wild-card spot in the East is the perfect position for them to be in as they’d enter into the Atlantic Division bracket, where they currently own a better record than all of those teams — though it should be noted they’re 0-2-1 against Montreal and 1-1 against Ottawa.
Derek Stepan has already made his thoughts clear on this matter, saying a couple of weeks ago: “Here’s the thing about it, and you can call me wacky if you want, but I believe in hockey Gods. If you try to pick your spot, it’s the kiss of death.”
You also can’t blame the Rangers for looking at Tuesday morning’s standings, seeing that they were five points behind Pittsburgh and Washington — which owns the regulation-and-overtime-wins tiebreaker — for the lead in the Metropolitan Division, Eastern Conference and the entire NHL, and thinking they still have a shot at home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs, or at least in the first round.
How much of an advantage would the Rangers really have, though? They’ve been terrific on the road with a league-best 25-9 mark but are just 19-15-2 at the Garden, where they will next play on Friday against the Panthers. They’ve lost five straight at MSG, the last four in regulation.
The advantage of being a wild-card team may mean just as much about a better path to the conference finals with respect to opponents as it does in regard to starting series on the road and playing possibly four out of seven games away from home.
The Rangers have lost their last five home playoff games beginning with Game 2 of the 2015 Eastern Conference Final against the Lightning when they fell 6-2. They were then shut out 2-0 in both Games 5 and 7, and they lost last year in Games 3 and 4 on home ice in the first round against the Penguins. They’ve been outscored 18-3 in those five matches.
Above all else, at the conclusion of their final 12 regular-season games the Rangers want to be feeling good about their game.
“Every time this time of the year, regardless of where you are at, you can’t focus on the standings,” Stepan said Monday. “You can watch them and keep an eye on them but our focus is getting better each night and focusing on the two points that are in front of us.”
Published at Tue, 14 Mar 2017 22:01:08 +0000