Monday, October 7, 2013

Captain Callahan Returns Tonight For Rangers vs. Kings

The Rangers continue their west coast trip to start the season against the Los Angeles Kings later tonight at 10:30 p.m. E.T.  Alain Vigneault confirmed over the weekend that Ryan Callahan will make his season debut tonight in place of J.T. Miller, who was optioned down to Hartford over the weekend (and went on to record two goals and an assist in his first game after being sent down, by the way).

Vigneault also confirmed that Arron Asham will make his season debut after being a healthy scratch in the first game of the season last Thursday. Asham will skate on the fourth line with Derek Dorsett and Dominic Moore tonight, making Jesper Fast a healthy scratch.

Here are the projected lines for tonight's game:

Brad Richards-Derek Stepan-Rick Nash
Benoit Pouliot-Derick Brassard-Mats Zuccarello
Taylor Pyatt-Brian Boyle-Ryan Callahan
Derek Dorsett-Dominic Moore-Arron Asham

Ryan McDonagh-Dan Girardi
Marc Staal-Michael Del Zotto
John Moore-Anton Stralman

Henrik Lundqvist
Marty Biron

Healthy Scratches: Justin Falk, Jesper Fast

Even though Callahan is projected to open the game on the third line, you can bet that he'll be moved into the top six group of forwards as the game progresses as long as he's feeling OK and his conditioning level isn't an issue. I also wouldn't be surprised to see Brad Richards wind up skating back at his original position at center at some point in this game, as he didn't look very comfortable playing the left wing last week.

After a lackluster performance in their season opener against the Phoenix Coyotes, getting their team captain back can only provide a spark for the Rangers tonight. It almost sounds silly to say that after only one game so far this season, but we've seen in the past that this team just seems to play better and have a better sense of its identity when they follow the lead of Ryan Callahan's play. He'll also undoubtedly provide a lift to both the penalty killing unit (which looked dreadful against Phoenix) and the power play.

Aside from that, there isn't much more to report. Henrik Lundqvist will, of course, be back in goal tonight and may even start tomorrow night in Anaheim, as well, depending on the outcome of tonight's game. 

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Rangers Announce Opening Day Roster; Kreider Sent To Hartford

The Rangers announced their final roster cuts today and now have set their roster for Opening Day on Thursday evening in Phoenix. Darroll Powe, Stu Bickel, Marek Hrivik, Conor Allen, Oscar Lindberg, Brandon Mashinter and Chris Kreider were all sent to Hartford.

Forwards: Arron Asham, Brian Boyle, Derick Brassard, Ryan Callahan, Derek Dorsett, Jesper Fast, Carl Hagelin, J.T. Miller, Dominic Moore, Rick Nash, Taylor Pyatt, Brad Richards, Derek Stepan, Mats Zuccarello

Defensemen: Michael Del Zotto, Justin Falk, Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh, John Moore, Marc Staal, Anton Stralman

Goalies: Marty Biron, Henrik Lundqvist

The Rangers have not placed Ryan Callahan or Carl Hagelin on long-term IR.

Brandon Mashinter, Darroll Powe and Stu Bickel all have to clear waivers before the Rangers can officially assign them to Hartford. I'd say there's a good chance that both Mashinter and Bickel will clear, but there might be some team out there willing to take a flier on Powe. He's a nice fourth line player and could be a fit on a deeper team as a penalty killing specialist.

Alain Vigneault said that rookie defenseman Conor Allen was very close to making the team as the seventh defenseman over Justin Falk, but the team ultimately decided they would be better served with Allen getting big minutes down in Hartford. Vigneault indicated that Allen would be the first guy called up if the Rangers need another defenseman at any point during the season.

The inclusions of J.T. Miller and Jesper Fast on the roster really aren't all that surprising to me. With Ryan Callahan and Carl Hagelin scheduled to miss the start of the season as they continue to recover from offseason shoulder surgery, the Rangers needed to carry players who can provide something on offense. Fast is one of the best forward prospects the Rangers have, and Miller got a taste of playing in the NHL for the first time last year. As valuable as Darroll Powe is on the penalty killing unit, the Rangers already have a gluttony of those scrappy fourth line players who won't provide much offensively in Brian Boyle, Taylor Pyatt, Arron Asham and Dominic Moore. It'll be interesting to see who the Rangers decide to send down once Callahan and Hagelin are ready to come back. I think they'd prefer giving Miller and Fast 20 minutes a night down in Hartford rather than 10 minutes a night on Broadway, but I do believe they have a real chance to stick around if they impress the coaching staff enough over the next few weeks. Taylor Pyatt and Arron Asham would be the top two candidates to be waived under that scenario. Vigneault said he wanted to keep Asham around because of his toughness and veteran instinct, which is totally understandable considering Derek Dorsett is the only other fighter the Rangers have on the roster right now.

Chris Kreider not making the team, however, is a huge surprise to me. I thought he was having a relatively good training camp and he was getting time on the top line with Brad Richards and Rick Nash early in camp. The coaching staff obviously feels like there are some things he needs to continue to work on down in Hartford. Nobody will come out and say it, but it has to be a huge disappointment within the Rangers organization that Kreider didn't show enough to make the team out of camp. He's struggled to find consistency in the NHL up to this point in his career, and it sure would've been nice to pencil his name into the lineup as a top six forward this year. Kreider has had a flair for the dramatics in the postseason, but John Tortorella talked a lot last year about how Kreider simply has to improve in the neutral and defensive zones to be a regular NHL player, and Alain Vigneault obviously feels the same way.

It looks as if Brad Richards will open the season playing the left wing since the Rangers currently have a logjam at center right now. Richards said he hasn't played the wing since back in Tampa Bay with the Lightning, but he's willing to give it a shot if it works.

So with that, I give you the projected Opening Day lines bsed on practice yesterday:

Brad Richards-Derek Stepan-Rick Nash
Benoit Pouliot-Derick Brassard-Mats Zuccarello
Taylor Pyatt-Brian Boyle-Jesper Fast
J.T. Miller-Dominic Moore-Derek Dorsett

Ryan McDonagh-Dan Girardi
Marc Staal-Michael Del Zotto
John Moore-Anton Stralman

Henrik Lundqvist
Marty Biron

Healthy Scratches: Justin Falk, Arron Asham

Alain Vigneault and Ryan Callahan both confirmed he will not play on Thursday night, with Callahan going as far as to say that he would rule himself out for the opener on Thursday "as of right now." So, basically unless there's some sort of an overnight miracle, the Rangers will open the season on Thursday without their captain in the lineup.

Finally, Henrik Lundqvist was asked by the media for an update on his contract negotiations, to which he said, “I don’t have anything for you,” Lundqvist said. “We still have a few days. You can get back to me. We’ll have discussions before we leave for Phoenix.” Apparently, Lundqvist may not want to negotiate a new contract during the season as he feels it might be a distraction. I personally have never once understood that theory, but then again I'm not a multimillion dollar athlete.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Rangers Training Camp 2013 - Clean Slate...Grab It

"Clean Slate...Grab It." That was the slogan on t-shirts that new Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault handed out to his players when they arrived for training camp yesterday. It makes sense - everybody is being given a clean slate with the team under new leadership, and it's up to them to take the opportunity and run (skate?) with it. That slogan seems like a perfect summary for Brad Richards' situation, who will be heading into the most crucial career of his Rangers career thus far. Richards spoke today about how he's looking to put last year behind him and he still believes he can return to the form he displayed two years ago. Here's to hoping that he's right.

Some notes from the first two days of training camp:

- Here is the full training camp roster thus far, courtesy of Andrew Gross:

Goalies - Marty Biron, Johan Hedberg, Henrik Lundqvist, Jeff Malcolm, Jason Missiaen, Mackenzie Skapski, Scott Stajcer, Cam Talbot

Defensemen - Conor Allen, Stu Bickel, Michael Del Zotto, Charlie Dodero, Troy Donnay, Justin Falk, Ben Fanelli, Dan Girardi, Ryan Graves, Tommy Hughes, Aaron Johnson, Ryan McDonagh, Dylan McIlrath, John Moore, Brendon Nash, Samuel Noreau, Jimmy Oligny, Marc Staal, Anton Stralman, Danny Syvret.

Forwards - Aaron Asham, J.T. Barnett, Ryan Bourque, Brian Boyle, Derick Brassard, Taylor Burke, Ryan Callahan, Derek Dorsett, Anthony Duclair, Jesper Fast, Josh Graves, Carl Hagelin, Micheal Haley, Marek Hrivik, Kyle Jean, Michael Kantor, Chris Kreider, Danny Kristo, Oscar Lindberg, Brandon Mashinter, J.T. Miller, Dominic Moore, Rick Nash, Josh Nicholls, Benoit Pouilot, Shawn O’Donnell, Darroll Powe, Taylor Pyatt, Brad Richards, Thomas Spelling, Michael St. Croix, Derek Stepan, Dyson Stevenson, Peter Trainor, Jason Wilson, Klarc Wilson, Andrew Yogan, Mats Zuccarello

- Derek Stepan has missed the first two days of camp so far. Stepan is still not under contract as he and Glen Sather continue to try and hammer out a new deal for the restricted free agent. Sather said today that there's nothing new to report on the negotiations, and Sather reportedly has no intentions of budging on whatever the current offer is that he has extended to Stepan's camp. Rumors are that Sather only wants to do a two-year deal while Stepan is looking for a long-term deal similar to the six-year extension Ryan McDonagh got earlier this offseason. Stepan and his agent really have no leverage here, but I understand why Stepan is trying to hold out for a long-term deal given that he's coming off the best season of his career. He'll be in camp soon enough, and he definitely needs to be in order to learn the ins and outs of playing in a new system under Alain Vigneault.

- Ryan Callahan and Carl Hagelin, who are both recovering from shoulder surgery, will obviously be limited in camp considering the fact that they may not be ready for the start of the regular season.

- Marty Biron has also missed the first two days of camp for personal/family reasons, which have not specifically been identified. Vigneault did say that he spoke to Biron on the phone today and the plan is for Biron to be in camp tomorrow, which is great news.

- Veteran goaltender Johan Hedberg is in camp with the Rangers under a professional tryout (PTO). Hedberg, 40 years old, was bought out by the Devils over the offseason after they acquired Cory Schneider from the Canucks. Hedberg stated that he was promised nothing from the Rangers as far as a roster spot is concerned and he's basically here just to keep working out and getting reps at the moment. For Hedberg, this is basically an audition in hopes that another team will see something they like in his game and give him a contract. Tons of teams will hand out PTOs during training camp over the next few weeks. I wouldn't mind having Hedberg playing in Hartford as an insurance policy to start the season, but I have a hard time believing that he has any interest in continuing his career playing in the minors. It seems like it's boom or bust for him right now.

- There is no update on Henrik Lundqvist's contract situation with the Rangers. The offseason has been pretty quiet concerning any talks that have been going on between the Rangers and Lundqvist, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent following this season. I have full confidence that they'll get a deal done, obviously, but it might take some time and not happen until the middle of the season. Lundqvist will not reach free agency.

- Alain Vigneault said he purposely didn't watch any footage of the Rangers' games last year. He had assistant coaches Scott Arniel watch footage of the Rangers' power play and Ulf Samuelsson the penalty kill, but beyond that Vigneault said he truly believes in forgetting about everything that happened last year and moving on. Whatever problems players had is in the past, and it seems like AV truly believes in this whole "clean slate" slogan. I actually really like it. There's no sense in looking over ways for the team to improve on last year when you consider the fact that they're going to be running a system that's the complete opposite of John Tortorella's.

More to come over the next few days as more news breaks from camp.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Mark Messier Leaves Rangers Organization

The Rangers and Mark Messier announced today that Messier has left the Rangers organization to instead work on the development of the Kingsbridge National Ice Center in the Bronx.

This news comes six days after the Rangers officially announced the hiring of Alain Vigneault as the team's new head coach. At Vigneault's introductory press conference last Friday, Rangers General Manager Glen Sather said he had yet to speak with Messier regarding his future with the team, but said that he expected to talk to him at some point over the next week.

Messier, who has served as special assistant to the president and general manager of the Rangers since 2009, released this statement today:

“I would like to thank the New York Rangers and particularly Glen Sather for giving me the opportunity over the last four years to work with the Rangers. I am resigning my position with the Team to pursue an opportunity to expand the game of hockey in the New York area by developing the Kingsbridge National Ice Center. Although some will perceive this as a reaction to the coaching decision, nothing could be further from the truth. I completely respect the decision that was made and for all the reasons it was made. I harbor no hard feelings toward Glen or the Rangers. This is a personal choice I am making to create a program in the New York area that will give our children more choices and opportunities in the future. I wish the Rangers nothing but the best in the future.“

Glen Sather also released his own statement, which read:

“Mark Messier will always be a part of the New York Rangers family. As a player and then as part of the management team, he brought incomparable passion and dedication to the organization. We wish him well in his future endeavors.”

The Kingsbridge National Ice Center, which is tentatively expected to be completed in September 2018, is going to be the world's largest indoor ice center and will hold nine ice rinks in the community center. Messier has been one of the center's top supporters, and the plans to build the ice center were officially announced in April by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

It's a bummer to see Mess leave the organization, but I think we all knew this was coming after the Rangers passed on naming him the team's next head coach. I thought there was a small possibility that Messier could accept an assistant head coaching job with the organization to remain with the organization, although that idea always seemed far-fetched to me. Any time the Rangers were to go through a losing streak or a rough stretch you just know fans would be clamoring to give Messier the head coaching job if he was still in the organization now that it's been revealed that he does have an interest in becoming a head coach.

I'm sure Messier will resurface in the NHL before too long, even though it won't be with the Rangers. The good news here is that he's leaving the team on good terms, so I'm sure hell still be making tons of public appearances and going to functions at the Garden through the team. Still, it's a shame that both sides couldn't figure out a way to make the relationship last given the sentimental value that all Rangers fans, myself included, have towards Mess.

Anyway, good luck to Mark in the future. Hopefully, he can get that head coaching job he's now known to be targeting in the future and will be back in the NHL in some form or fashion relatively soon.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Rangers Could Announce Alain Vigneault As New Head Coach Today

The New York Rangers agreed to terms with Alain Vigneault to become the 34th head coach in franchise history on Saturday, and according to Larry Brooks of The New York Post the team could put out a press release to announce the hiring of Vigneault as soon as today. Brooks notes, however, that the Rangers likely will not formally introduce him to the media at a press conference until Thursday. Rangers GM Glen Sather is currently at his home in California and will not be back on the east coast until Wednesday when NHL general managers meet for their yearly meetings in Boston. With Madison Square Garden currently unusable while its undergoing construction, the Rangers will need to find another location to hold Vigneault's press conference. I would guess that they'll just do it at the team's practice facility in Greenburgh, but that remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, Brooks also reports that Sather and Vigneault have already begun discussing names to add to his coaching staff. Mike Sullivan, thankfully, will not be retained and Jim Schoenfeld will only remain with the organization as assistant GM to Sather. Benoit Allaire, as we all assumed, will remain with the organization as goalie/assistant coach and Henrik Lundqvist's right-hand man. I would assume Mark Messier is a possibility, although it could be a major distraction to have Messier on the coaching staff if the team gets off to a slow start and fans overreact and start calling for Vigneault's head. Brooks mentioned over the weekend that Messier could possibly be reassigned to a coaching position with the Hartford Wolf Pack if he really wants to embark on a coaching career. Either way, he'll most likely remain with the organization next year.

One name being floated around is former Rangers defenseman and current head coach of MODO of the Swedish Elite League, Ulf Samuelsson. Samuelsson apparently reached out to the Rangers when hearing about the team's vacant head coaching position following the firing of John Tortorella, so there's definitely some level of interest there already. Whether he'd be willing to leave a head coaching job to become an assistant in the NHL remains to be seen. I think Samuelsson would be a nice addition to the coaching staff and could add an interesting element to coaching the power play.

As for the hiring of Vigneault, I have to admit that I wasn't initially thrilled when hearing a few weeks ago that he was a top candidate for the Rangers' head coaching job, but the more I read about him the more he's grown on me. I admittedly do not know a lot about Vigneault as far as a head coach beyond the handful of Vancouver Canucks games I'd see every year, mostly coming in the playoffs. The biggest knock on Vigneault has been that he wasn't able to lead the Canucks to a Stanley Cup victory despite having immense amounts of talent on the team in Roberto Luongo, the Sedin twins and Ryan Kessler, amongst other big names. He did come within one win of winning a Cup, though, which a lot of people forget about. I distinctly remember several games in which Roberto Luongo failed to show up for the Canucks, though, which led to a lot of the Canucks' failures in recent years.

The biggest positive that I've read about Alain Vigneault is that he's the opposite type of coach to John Tortorella. He coaches an up-tempo offensive system that the team desperately needs, while also relying on his role players to play to their strengths. The Rangers desperately need that type of change. This means Vigneault won't be asking Rick Nash to block shots and will instead allow him to play his game in the offensive zone where he should be. One of Torts' biggest downfalls was his stubbornness to change his system and insisting that all his players adjust to playing one specific way, and this won't be the case with Vigneault in charge.

More to come within the next few days as we get more information about Vigneault's hiring and how the rest of his coaching staff will fill out.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Audio and Highlights From Glen Sather's Conference Call With Media

Glen Sather met with the media yesterday afternoon after firing John Tortorella. Among the few highlights of his conference call, he did say that he expects to have a new head coach in place by the time the 2013 Entry Level Draft takes place, which is on June 30.

You can read the entire transcript of Glen Sather's conference call with the media, courtesy of SNYRangers, here and you can also listen to the audio itself, courtesy of Rangers Report, here.

I don't know if we'll ever get all of the details on what specifically led to the firing of John Tortorella. Glen Sather really didn't say much during his conference call, which was to be expected, but he did say that Tortorella was "a little bit shocked" when he found out he was being fired, and that it wasn't any one specific thing that made him reach the decision to pull the plug on Torts' Rangers coaching career. To me, that means this was a decision that was made within the last day or two. When John Tortorella met with the media on Monday during breakup day he didn't talk like a dead man walking who was expecting to be canned. He talked a lot about next season and areas the Rangers organization needed to address when they met for organizational meetings in late June. None of the Rangers beat reporters predicted this, either. The general assumption from everybody was that Torts was safe. Even though John Tortorella denied that Henrik Lundqvist's comments had anything to do with their decision, I'm not entirely sure I believe that. I don't think for a second that Lundqvist met with the Rangers' brass behind John Tortorella's back and told them the only way he would re-sign long-term would be if Torts was fired, but I do believe his comments caused Glen Sather and co. to rethink things as far as the strategy of the team moving forward.

Unsurprisingly, Slats said that he plans to re-sign Henrik Lundqvist to a long-term contract. He also wouldn't comment on whether or not the Rangers would bring back Brad Richards next year, and only said it was something the higher ups would discuss at the organizational meetings next month. What I did think was interesting, though, was that Sather said the decision to make Richards a healthy scratch for the final two games of the series was a group decision that John Tortorella didn't make on his own. I'm not sure how much I believe that, but if it's true I think it speaks volumes on how quickly the entire organization has soured on Richards.

One other thing from Sather's conference call that I thought it was interesting was when he said he considered this season to be a failure because the Rangers didn't win a Stanley Cup. That thinking coincides with what Lundqvist said during breakup day, but it also somewhat goes against with what Torts said. He only referred to this season as "a step sideways," which I thought at the time was interesting considering the Rangers had more than enough talent to make a deeper run in the playoffs this season.

The bottom line is this: John Tortorella was not the right man for this job. I wrote a few days ago that I wasn't sure he was the right man for this job given the personnel the Rangers have and the style he insisted on them playing, and ultimately I guess Glen Sather felt the same way. It was one thing to focus primarily on shot blocking and winning 2-1 games with last year's roster, but Torts never adjusted his system to fit the styles of his top offensive players coming into this season, namely Rick Nash, Marian Gaborik, Derek Stepan and Brad Richards. I also do believe his mishandling of Chris Kreider this season played a part in Torts' dismissal. The Rangers organization is clearly extremely high on Kreider as evidenced by Sather's willingness to burn one year on his Entry Level contract just to have him for the playoffs a year ago, and Tortorella really didn't utilize him to his best abilities.

So, now the question immediately becomes who the Rangers will target now for their head coaching opening. The top candidates that I've seen being thrown around on Twitter so far are Lindy Ruff, Alaine Vigneault, Dave Tippett and dark-horse candidate Ken Gernander. I think Ruff would be a perfect fit here and would bring a strong offensive system while he also knows how to build a strong defensive game from the net on out after his time with Ryan Miller in Buffalo. Tippett would be my second favorite choice, but he's still currently the head coach of the Phoenix Coyotes and there are no guarantees that he'll be available just yet. Vigneault, I have zero interest in. He's had a ton of success in the regular season while coaching the Vancouver Canucks, but his playoff record has been awful. Gernander is an interesting name, as he's currently the head coach of the Connecticut Whale/Hartford Wolfpack. I do think the Rangers will target someone with more experience, though, given that this is a veteran team.

One thing I can say is that Rangers fans should not expect assistant coach Mike Sullivan to be brought back next year. Sather said there were no other changes to his coaching staff that he was prepared to make at this time, but whoever he hires as head coach will want to bring in their own staff to run their own system. The only assistant who I think will definitely be brought back is Benoit Allaire, who is thought of highly and has an outstanding relationship with Marty Biron and Henrik Lundqvist.

We'll see what happens. I think Sather will try and act relatively quickly to find a new head coach and I wouldn't be surprised if the Rangers hire somebody within the next week or two.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Breaking News: John Tortorella Fired As Rangers Head Coach

The New York Rangers announced today that they have relieved John Tortorella of his duties as head coach, according to sources. The news comes four days after the Rangers saw their season end with a loss to the Boston Bruins on Saturday night.

According to Elliotte Friedman of Hockey Night In Canada, the comments Lundqvist made following the season "'changed everything,' according to [a] source."

To say that I'm shocked would be an understatement. In no way did I think the Rangers would fire John Tortorella, especially not after they actually won a playoff series and his comments made on breakup day. One thing you can bank on is that Henrik Lundqvist is essentially running this organization. This firing speaks volumes of how much Glen Sather and Co. value Lundqvist's input, and they must have felt like he was serious about holding off contract talks if the team didn't make a change. Lundqvist spoke about how frustrated he was and that he thought this team took a step backwards this year, while John Tortorella disagreed. Very, very interesting.

It also makes me wonder if Sean Avery's comments on Twitter from a few months ago that John Tortorella's players hate him actually had any merit.

Expect more in the upcoming hours/days. I'll be very interested in seeing who the Rangers will target following the firing of Torts and what type of coach they'll look at hiring.

Reports are that Glen Sather will have a conference call soon to discuss John Tortorella's dismissal as Rangers head coach.

More to come.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

News, Notes, Thoughts Following Breakup Day For Rangers

The Rangers' coaching staff and players met with the media yesterday for the final time before cleaning out their lockers and packing up for the offseason. It's never a fun scene, and certainly isn't something I enjoy having to read and write about this early in the year because it means the Rangers have fallen short of winning the Stanley Cup, but unfortunately that's the way it goes.

No surprise here, but Rangers GM Glen Sather was not made available to the media. He never meets with the media on breakup day anyway, so I don't think this has anything to do with his ongoing treatment he's been undergoing for prostate cancer.

There will be plenty of time to dissect the Rangers' needs and moves they have to make this offseason, but for now I'll just sum up my basic thoughts on what I think the team needs to do, and what will actually happen. Below you can find those thoughts, along with injury updates and comments from the players following their season-ending loss on Saturday:

- The No. 1 priority for the Rangers should, and will likely be, coming to terms on a new contract extension for Henrik Lundqvist. Lundqvist has one more year left on his current deal. I don't expect negotiations to take long considering the Rangers are probably a bottom-five team in the league without The King holding down the fort. They know how much they need him, and I expect Glen Sather to work dilegently on reaching a new contract agreement with Lundqvist this summer. Lundqvist will likely become the highest paid goaltender in the league, as he rightfully should, and I think there's basically zero chance he will ever leave New York. I know a lot of people are freaking out for some reason just because Lundqvist sort of brushed off contract extension talks when he met with the media on Monday, but it's really not a big deal to me at all. Lundqvist wants to win here, he owns a restaurant in Tribeca with Sean Avery and he's raising his family in the City. Henrik loves New York and knows how marketable he is playing here. He's going nowhere.

- The No. 2 priority (priorities?) will be the Rangers re-signing their restricted free agents this offseason, Carl Hagelin, Ryan McDonagh and Derek Stepan. I don't think negotiations will be too hectic for any of the three. My guess is that Glen Sather will likely look to lockup McDonagh and Stepan long-term while handing Hagelin maybe a two or three-year deal.

- John Tortorella will be back as head coach next season, but I still have a ton of questions over whether or not he's truly the right guy for this job. The power play has been abysmal during his tenure here as head coach, and this team has way too much talent to be scratching and clawing to win one goal-games all the time. Glen Sather has gone out and gotten guys that John Tortorella has wanted, but the results have still mostly been the same. The Rangers will not win a Stanley Cup with this current system they have in place. John Tortorella simply has to realize that there needs to be a much more offensively-charged game plan to fit the styles of Rick Nash, Derek Stepan and Derick Brassard. The Rangers' biggest problem, and I've said this all season long, is that they tried to play like last year's team when the personnel was drastically different. If Torts can't realize that shot blocking and trying to win every game 2-1 when you have a superstar goal-scorer in Rick Nash on your team, then I fully expect the Rangers will once again be an inconsistent team next season and John Tortorella will be fired by December. I'm willing to give John Tortorella the benefit of the doubt and hope that he's smart enough to realize he needs to change his system during a normal full offseason since the lockout screwed everything up last year, but only time will tell.

- I firmly believe Brad Richards has played his last game as a Ranger, which is a shame. Richards had a great first season on Broadway, but struggled in his second season and was relegated to skating on the fourth line until John Tortorella made him a healthy scratch in Games 4 and 5 against the Bruins. When your head coach no longer has your back, you're done. Larry Brooks of The New York Post reported yesterday that sources close to Richards said he was furious over being a healthy scratch for the final two games in the series. I still think Richards has a ton of good hockey left in the tank and believe it's absurd to cast him aside after one poor, lockout-shortened season. This isn't a case of Chris Drury or Scott Gomez, in my opinion. The talent is still there, and I don't see anything glaring in Richards' game to make me believe he's dropped off the way Drury did. I'd like to believe the Rangers will have second thoughts and realize that keeping Richie makes sense, but we'll see. The Rangers have one more amnesty clause that they can use (the first was used on Wade Redden's contract), and Richards is the prime target should they choose to pull the trigger this offseason. John Tortorella wouldn't comment on Richards, only saying he thinks he'll rebound and that the decision will ultimately be up to Glen Sather on whether to bring Richie back. Not exactly a ringing endorsement from the guy who wanted Richards here the most out of anyone in the organization two years ago.

- Needless to say, Roman Hamrlik has played his last game as a New York Ranger, and he predictably showed everybody why he never should've been in the lineup with his terrible play and two gaffs last night. I also don't expect Taylor Pyatt, Darroll Powe and Arron Asham to all be back next season. There's just too much dead weight there, and the Rangers need to get deeper in their bottom six group of forwards. Derek Dorsett will be back, and I think could turn into a real nice addition for the fourth line. His game reminds me a lot of Brandon Prust, and I think the coaching staff feels the same way. Matt Gilroy will be gone. I wouldn't mind keeping Steve Eminger around as the proverbial seventh d-man, but I think the Rangers will try and find an upgrade for that role if they can.

- Chris Kreider absolutely needs to be on this team next season, and he needs to be getting a ton of minutes on one of the top two lines. He has too much talent, as we saw in the playoffs, to be getting seven minutes a night on the fourth line.

- J.T. Miller will likely only make the team if the Rangers decide to cut ties with Brad Richards. I still think his game is very raw and he could use some more tooling down in Hartford, though. It wouldn't make sense for him to make the team playing on the fourth line if Richards is still here next season.

- I think the Rangers would be interested in bringing Ryane Clowe back if he has any interest in doing a one or two-year deal. Even two might be a stretch. They played like a different team when he was in the lineup, and he clearly provided a ton of toughness and leadership that this team has lacked throughout this season. Clowe said he wants to come back, and also wouldn't confirm whether or not he did in fact suffer a concussion in the first round series against the Capitals.

- Speaking of concussions, Darroll Powe confirmed that he did suffer his second concussion of the season in the first round against the Capitals.

- Anton Stralman confirmed that he suffered a separated shoulder and multiple facial fractures on the hit from Milan Lucic that forced him to miss the final two games of the series against the Bruins. Stralman said that he could've played through the facial fractures, but the shoulder was what kept him out of the lineup.

- Rick Nash said he thought he was "good" in the playoffs this year when asked to rate his overall performance. I can't say I agree with him considering he only scored one goal in 12 games. I thought the effort was there, though, and I'm still convinced he was playing hurt. There were rumors he was battling through a back issue, but Nash didn't confirm that he was suffering from any injuries.

- Marc Staal admitted that the vision in his right eye may never fully return to being 100 percent, but he said he doesn't think it'll be an issue after going through a regular offseason and getting used to playing with it. Staal did say, though, that his vision has continued to improve day by day, which is obviously good. I think he'll be fine next season, and it's clear this is just something he has to adjust to and get comfortable playing with. It's a shame that he might never fully regain the vision in his right eye, but it's clear that this isn't something that is potentially career-ending, which is obviously good.

- Brian Boyle, to his credit, said he "sucked" this year and admitted he came into this season out of shape from not playing at all during the lockout. He said he let himself and his teammates down, and it's hard for me to disagree with him. He was awful for a large part of this season, but it's clear not playing during the lockout hurt a lot of players this season, Brad Richards included.

- Mats Zuccarello should be brought back next season. He's proven to me that he can play in the NHL, and his playmaking ability is maybe the best on the Rangers. I wasn't always the biggest Zucc fan, but he looked like a totally different player this year and just seemed much more decisive and confident with the puck. There's no doubt in my mind that the Rangers should work on bringing him back. Zucc said he would prefer to re-sign with the Rangers rather than going back to play in the KHL.

- The Rangers have to give serious thought about trading Michael Del Zotto. The mistakes he is still making are just scary when you consider this was already his third year in the league. I know the talent is there, but for a team that relies so much on defense, he's a liability out there on the ice. The giveaways and constantly being caught up the ice when an odd man rush breaks out the other way is insanely aggravating to watch. I'm really beginning to wonder whether Del Zotto will ever put it all together, and if he does whether or not it will be in New York.

For more direct quotes from John Tortorella and the players, you can check them out courtesy of Andrew Gross, here.

That's it for now. I'll stick around all offseason, as usual, but expect things to be dead surrounding the Rangers for a few weeks. They don't have their organizational meetings until towards the end of June, so things will most likely be uneventful until the draft next month at the earliest. I'll definitely be sticking around to report on any news that breaks, though, and like I said above, I'll probably post my full thoughts on the season sometime within the next week or so.

Thanks again to everybody for reading the blog again this season!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Rangers Drop Game 2 To Bruins, Trail Series 2-0

The New York Rangers dropped their Game 2 match up with the Bruins by a score of 5-2 earlier today. That means for the second consecutive series, the Rangers find themselves down 2-0 with everything riding on the line as they return home for a pivotal Game 3 on Tuesday night at the Garden. Henrik Lundqvist made 27 saves, while Ryan Callahan and Rick Nash were the goal scorers for the Rangers.

Before I get to the game itself, a quick note on the health of Henrik Lundqvist. Apparently there was a deflected shot late in the third period that Lundqvist dove to cover and he seemed to jam his left shoulder on the play. I say apparently because I was so disgusted with the way this game went that I turned it off before this happened. Lundqvist was seen rotating his arm and trying to flex it throughout the next few minutes, and after the game he told the media:

“It’s my shoulder, we’ll see,” said Lundqvist, who also rubbed his shoulder area a couple of times while speaking to the media. “We’ll take a look at it.”
 Rangers Rants

The team obviously needs Lundqvist to be 100 percent and at his best if they expect to make a serious run at rebounding in this series. I have to imagine that if it was anything serious John Tortorella would've pulled Lundqvist since the game was well out of hand by the time it happened. With the Rangers' season pretty much on the line on Tuesday, I'd say there's no way Henrik Lundqvist isn't starting in net unless this was a truly serious injury.

And now, onto the game. Right from the beginning it was clear that this was not going to be a good game - at least to me it was. The Rangers gave up four odd-man rushes within the first 10 minutes or so of the first period and seemed like they were scattering to get back on defense all game long. The Bruins clearly made adjustments to move the puck up the ice quicker to counter the Rangers' strong forecheck while the Rangers seemed to make no adjustments in their game plan. Soon enough the game turned into a shoot out, and when that happens the Rangers aren't going to win. Nobody was good on defense, but the pairing of Michael Del Zotto and Dan Girardi was especially atrocious. Del Zotto finished the game with a minus-3 rating while Girardi had a minus-4 in what was quite possibly his worst game as a Ranger. It was more of the same with Del Zotto pinching too deep in the offensive zone and failing to get back and take his man, while Girardi just made some uncharacteristic mistakes, like looking at the puck on the Bruins' third goal while letting Brad Marchand skate right to the front of the net untouched. With Marc Staal hurt, I said that Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi would have to play flawlessly while Anton Stralman and Michael Del Zotto needed to pick up the slack. Neither of that happened today, and for the most part Del Zotto has been terrible all throughout the playoffs.

And so, the Rangers are once again faced with a must-win game Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden. I don't think the Rangers have played terribly in this series, but they have just had way too many defensive lapses to overcome thus far. They need to play a tight defensive game and give up as little as possible, and that hasn't happened in either game of this series so far.

Other thoughts and notes from today's game:

- Stop me if you've heard this one before: the Rangers went 0 for 5 on the power play, which easily killed any chance they had of getting back in this game early. I'll admit that the power play looked better today, but the result was the same. If the Rangers had even a mediocre power play it would be a huge upgrade at this point and would probably change the course of several tight games. To me, the missed opportunities with the man advantage is pretty much always the turning point of any game the Rangers lose. They're now an unbelievably bad 2 for 36 on the power play in the postseason, which comes out to a 5.6 percent success rate. It's amazing the Rangers are still playing hockey given how terrible those numbers are. The Rangers could've easily gotten themselves back in this thing and tightened up on defense the rest of the way if the power play converted even just once. It's a momentum killer and is beyond a huge problem. I just don't see how you plan on winning a Stanley Cup when you can't make other teams pay for giving you chance after chance on the power play. As much as I dislike Pierre McGuire, I do agree with him when he says that at this point the power play struggles have to be schematic, and that goes back to the coaching staff. It can't possibly be a coincidence that every player that's tried out on either power play unit winds up struggling.

- John Tortorella said following the Caps series that he thought the Rangers played their best games of the series in Games 6 and 7 when the team was fighting to stay alive and Torts told them to just go out and play their game and to have fun. I don't know what has changed, but it's clear the Rangers have not played that way so far in this series. It seems to me that maybe the team is overly focused and trying too hard that they're messing up in areas they usually excel at. I really don't have any other guesses on why they could possibly be making some of the mistakes they've made in this series. For a team that pays such attention to defensive hockey to have these types of breakdowns in their own zone is scary to me. In the three games they lost to the Capitals in the quarterfinals there were areas where they made mistakes, but it was never as constant and blatant as the ones they've made in these two games.

- Henrik Lundqvist wasn't terrible today, but he certainly wasn't good, either. The ridiculous amount of defensive zone breakdowns certainly didn't help him, and are on the Rangers' defenseman more than Lundqvist himself, but I thought the Bruins' first goal scored by Torey Krug and their third goal scored by Johnny Boychuk are both shots that Lundqvist stops when his game is right. Even the goal from Brad Marchand, which was almost identical to his overtime goal in Game 1 that Lundqvist thought he should've stopped, was one Hank probably stops. For the most part, though, the Bruins had traffic in front of the net all game long and the Rangers' defensemen did nothing to clear the front of the net. Lundqvist was constantly being screeened and had to fight through traffic just to be able to see pucks. The King will need to return to form, as will his defensemen in front of him, for Game 3.

- Derick Brassard was held scoreless, which snapped his six-game point scoring streak in the playoffs (two goals, eight assists, 10 points during that span).

- Ryan Callahan did almost everything he could to try and get the Rangers back into this game. He scored a breakaway goal on a sick move, blocked a ton of shots and was hitting everything in sight. He also setup Derek Stepan on a beautiful pass from behind the net that hit the post. This was certainly one of those games where the Rangers needed their captain to lead by example, and he did as much as he could. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough.

- In maybe the only bit of good news to come from today, this was easily Rick Nash's best game thus far in the playoffs. Not only did he finally score his first goal, but he seemed to be much more active and noticeable on every shift. He was skating much better and controlling the puck with more authority, too. If the Rangers want to get back into this series they'll have to hope this was a sign of good things to come.

- After saying Carl Hagelin "stinks" on the power play because he's too fast (?), John Tortorella  apparently had a change of heart and gave Hagelin 46 seconds of power play time late in the game when the Rangers were trailing and in dire need of a power play goal. Desperate times call for desperate measures, I guess.

- Chris Kreider played 7:52 in today's game with 2:02 coming on the power play. It's hard to be expected to produce on the power play when you don't get a chance to really get into the flow of the game with regular even-strength shifts. Personally, I would move Kreider up to play on the first or second line at this point. Why not?

- John Moore finished with 10:21 TOI with zero power play or penalty kill time. I think all Rangers fans like myself have been clamoring to give this kid more power play time and let him play his game, but the coaching staff has remained loyal to Michael Del Zotto and Brad Richards manning the points despite getting zero contributions from them. After playing what I thought was his best stretch of hockey as a Ranger during the quarterfinals against the Capitals, Moore has looked very tentative these first two games and hasn't been as aggressive in joining the rush or chipping in on offense.

That's it for today. More to come tomorrow when the Rangers return home for practice. I wouldn't be surprised if we see some line juggling, but none of it matters if they show up on Tuesday and play the way they did (or didn't) today.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Rangers Rout Caps 5-0, Move On To Face Bruins In Eastern Conference Semifinals

The New York Rangers are moving on. After playing the last two days with their backs up against the wall and on the brink of elimination, the Rangers finished off the Capitals in a 5-0 drubbing tonight that was capped off by a 35-save performance from Henrik Lundqvist that gave him his second consecutive shutout.

The Rangers will play the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, which begins in Boston on Thursday night at 7:30 ET.

After being shutout in two games in the series and losing all three road games while combining to score just two goals (!!) in those three road games, the Rangers exploded for five goals in Washington tonight, coming from Arron Asham, Taylor Pyatt, Michael Del Zotto, Ryan Callahan and Mats Zuccarello.

Just like we all predicted, right?

I didn't think the Rangers started out all that aggressively, which was to be expected, but late in the first period came the biggest sequence of the game, in my opinion, when Henrik Lundqvist stopped a tough shot from Mike Green after Chris Kreider failed to pick up his man while coming off the bench during a line change. Kreider picked the puck up and carried it down the ice before delivering a beautiful drop-pass to Arron Asham, who fired a perfect shot to beat Braden Holtby for the first (and eventual game-winning) goal of the game. The Rangers survived the first period with a lead despite being out-shot 13-9, and tacked on another two quick goals in the second period after Taylor Pyatt slammed home a loose puck in front of the net after Holtby stopped Derek Dorsett's shot. Exactly two minutes later, Michael Del Zotto's pass that was intended for Mats Zuccarello in front of the net from the left point deflected off a Capitals player's skate and beat Holtby five hole style. I think we all felt very comfortable with taking a three-goal lead into the third period...until the Bruins came back to beat the Maple Leafs and scored three unanswered goals to tie the game with just six minutes left in the third period and their season on the line. But that small seed of doubt was short-lived because Ryan Callahan put the nail in the Capitals' coffin with a fourth goal just 13 seconds into the third period on a breakaway that came off a Caps turnover in the neutral zone. Just for fun, Mats Zuccarello added another goal when he almost shook Braden Holtby out of his pads on a beautiful move alone in front of the net. From then on out the only question left was if the Rangers could help King Henrik record his second shutout in as many days, which they did.

I thought the biggest difference between this game and the others was that the Rangers never let up on offensive pressure, which I've been clamoring for since before the series even started. They had their foot on the gas tonight and never let up until the final buzzer sounded. They kept attacking and kept chipping away, and it ultimately resulted in the biggest margin of victory for either team in this series. It also makes it one heck of a lot less stressful on the fans when they're not clinging to a one-goal lead for the entire third period as an added bonus, too.

Derick Brassard, who was easily the Rangers' offensive MVP in this series, capped off his outstanding playoff performance with two assists tonight and finished the series with two goals and seven assists for nine points. Even more impressive? All of his points came in the last five games of the series. Brassard has been nothing short of spectacular since coming over from the Blue Jackets in the Marian Gaborik trade, and the kid is showing why he was a former first-round pick.

What can really be said about Henrik Lundqvist that hasn't already been said? His comments after Game 5 that this series wasn't over even though the Rangers found themselves trailing 3-2 certainly rang true, and Lundqvist once again put this team on his back and got them through this series. The King registered back-to-back shutouts in Games 6 and 7, which has only been done four times in the history of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. From hearing Lundqvist talk and seeing his body language the past few days in net, you could just tell he was not going to be denied moving onto the next round. There was something about the way he played where I just felt like this guy wasn't going to be beaten. He had his game face on and rebounded with six straight outstanding performances after a shaky Game 1 to open this series that were capped off with a 27-save shutout in Game 6 and a 35-save shutout in Game 7. The Capitals admittedly threw anything and everything they could at Lundqvist these past two days and he stopped them all. It was just Henrik Lundqvist at his absolute best.

Some other thoughts and notes from the game:

- The Rangers came back to win this series after trailing 2-0 for the third time in franchise history, and the first since 1997.

- This marked the first Game 7 the Rangers have won on the road in franchise history.

- The Rangers got a ton of secondary scoring in this series after struggling in that area for a large part of the regular season up until the trade deadline. Unlikely heroes Taylor Pyatt, Carl Hagelin, Arron Asham and Brian Boyle all chipped in with big goals in this series (two a piece for Hagelin, Asham and Boyle) while the Rangers' top offensive players in Rick Nash, Brad Richards, Derek Stepan and Ryan Callahan combined for just four goals in the series. The bottom six carried the Rangers through this series, but it's not fair (and extremely unlikely) to expect them to be able to do it again in the next round. That being said, it was great to see some of the secondary players step up big time for the Rangers in this series when all four struggled mightily at one point or another during the season to produce any sort of offense.

- Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi both deserve tons and tons of credit for the way they contained Alexander Ovechkin in this series. Ovechkin had just one goal in the series, which came in Game 1, and tonight he registered only one shot on goal. He was throwing his body around the entire game, though, and ended up with a game-high 13 hits (including one that I thought was a boarding call on Ryan McDonagh that required stitches and left McDonagh with a black eye), but I'll trade hits from Ovechkin over goals any day of the week. McDonagh and Girardi are back playing as good as they did towards the end of last year, if not better, and both guys are true warriors when you see the punishment they take and handout over the course of an entire game.

- In addition to McDonagh and Girardi, credit has to be given to both Anton Stralman and Steve Eminger for how good they were in this series. Stralman, to me, played his best hockey as a Ranger in this series and was a very underrated player in this series for the Rangers. I said before the series that the Rangers would need him to step up and help fill the void that Marc Staal left. Well, he did that and then some. Stralman has been a steady defenseman for the Rangers the past two years, and in this series he was an absolute anchor. Eminger, too, deserves credit for being able to step in on the third pairing and deliver a steady presence throughout this series, and he chipped in with two big assists in tonight's game.

- Rick Nash didn't score today, but he did register an assist and finished with a plus-two rating. Tonight was easily Nash's best game of the series. I still do believe there's some type of injury that he's hiding, but that doesn't really matter. The Rangers will need Rick Nash to be Rick Nash in the next round against the Bruins.

- I absolutely have loved what I've seen from Derek Dorsett so far. He brings a lot of physical play and has an edge to his game similar to Brandon Prust and Sean Avery, and tonight was easily his best game as a Ranger. He finished with an assist, a plus-1 rating and four shots in 15:32 TOI. He also hit the crossbar on the play that eventually led to Michael Del Zotto's goal. Dorsett was hitting everybody when he was out there on the ice tonight, and he's shown a lot more

- The Rangers finished the series 2-for-28 on the power play, which is obviously terrible. I really believe with the way Lundqvist played the Rangers could have won this series in five or six games if they had even an average power play. There's no doubt they'll have to dramatically improve things here heading into the next series against Boston.

- Anton Stralman and Michael Del Zotto both finished with a game-high plus-3 rating on the night.

- After playing just over nine minutes in last night's game, Brad Richards finished with just 11:12 TOI while centering the fourth line for the second straight day.

- Mats Zuccarello led the Rangers with a team-high five shots on goal and finished the series with one goal and four assists. His goal tonight was the first postseason goal of his career. I admittedly was never the biggest fan of Zucc, but it's ridiculous how much of a different dynamic he's added to this team since coming over from the KHL. Zuccarello's vision and playmaking skills are amongst the best on the team and, as we saw tonight and in just about all of his shootout attempts, he's got such quick hands. To me, he's played his way onto the roster next season already. I think he's been a fantastic addition and I'm willing to eat crow on this one.

That's it for tonight. More to come in the next few days as the Rangers get set to battle (and it will be a battle) the Bruins starting on Thursday. We all get a couple of days off to calm our nerves before doing it all over again. That, however, is a great problem to have versus having to wait until September to see the Rangers on the ice again.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Rangers and Caps Faceoff Tonight In Do-Or-Die Game 7

It all comes down to this. The Rangers and Capitals will play Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals tonight in Washington to decide who will move on and who will officially begin their offseason come tomorrow. After winning a thrilling Game 6 by a final score of 1-0 last night at the Garden thanks to a phenomenal 27-save shutout from Henrik Lundqvist, the Rangers will have to be the first team in this series to win a road game if they want their season to live on. Tonight's Game 7 will be the Rangers' third Game 7 in their last four playoff series' dating back to last year.

Come on - you didn't actually think this team would make any of this easy, did you?

If there's one thing we've learned from this series it's that the Rangers cannot get away with playing the same type of game they have played at home as the one they'll play on the road tonight. Of course, that doesn't mean they won't try. The conservative approach has barely worked in their three victories at home in this series and it has fallen short in all three road losses. Sitting on a one goal lead in your own building with the crowd behind you is one thing, and trying to do it on the road is another. I said before this series started that the Rangers would need to attack and be more aggressive and they simply haven't. If they lose tonight, that will be the story of the series and ultimately what did the Rangers in. I think it's a mistake to go into a conservative dump-the-puck-deep-and-go-for-a-line-change style of play every time they take a lead, and I'm a firm believer that this team needs to be much more aggressive in trying to score that critical put away goal instead of expecting Henrik Lundqvist to be perfect in every game.

Some notes and things to look for in tonight's game:

- With their backs against the wall yesterday, the Rangers came out flying and fired anything and everything at net. I don't expect that same approach tonight. I think the Rangers will once again try and survive the first period and try to chip in an early goal without being overly aggressive. They'll try to weather the storm and let the emotions and intensity level of the Caps and their home crowd die down before they get going, in my opinion.

- The Rangers have managed to score a total of two goals in all three road games in Washington this series.

- Rangers announcer Joe Micheletti said after last night's game that he thinks Rick Nash (no goals, one assist in six games this series) is playing hurt because he isn't showing the same burst to get around defenders that he was earlier this year. It's a fair point, and Micheletti certainly has a lot more insight on what's going on with the Rangers since he sees the team everyday. Nash did suffer a groin injury while playing overseas during the lockout, and also appeared to jam his knee while going hard into the boards in Game 3. The more this series goes along and the more I see Nash struggle the more I tend to agree that he has to be playing hurt. He has way too much talent to be struggling this badly.

- Derick Brassard has obviously been the Rangers' best forward in this series, recording two goals and five assists for seven points in six games. Other forwards of noteworthy performances in this series: Mats Zuccarello (no goals, four assists, plus-2 in six games), Brian Boyle (two goals, one assist, minus-2 in five games), Carl Hagelin (two goals, two assists, plus-3 in six games), Derek Stepan (two goals, zero assists, plus-1 in six games) and Ryan Callahan (zero goals, two assists, plus-1 in six games). The captain has played a good physical series so far, but tonight is where the Rangers need Cally to step up with a clutch offensive performance to move onto the next round.

- It'll be interesting to see if any of the emotion at the end of last night's game will carry over into Game 7. I don't think it will, personally, since this game is too critical for guys to lose their cool and wind up taking mindless penalties, but you never know. The Capitals have definitely shown the most frustration in this series and have taken some dumb penalties, but the Rangers' power play has done nothing to make them pay for it.

- Neither Ryane Clowe or Darroll Powe traveled with the team to Washington, meaning both are obviously out tonight. The speculation is that both players are suffering from concussions.

- No update was given on Marc Staal's status (obviously), but I'd be shocked if he played tonight.

- Both Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi played under 25 minutes last night. That means you can expect to see them a lot as the game winds down in the third period. I wouldn't be surprised if both guys finish with over 30 minutes of ice time tonight.

- Brad Richards played just 9:34 in last night's game, including just 5:35 on even strength, which is just stunning. John Tortorella hasn't been afraid to bench Richards, and if he doesn't get things going early tonight I would expect more of the same. Richards skated on the fourth line last night with Arron Asham and Chris Kreider, who both had a little over 4:00 of ice time. Richie has certainly fallen out of favor with Torts recently and it's fair to wonder what the future holds for him after this season.

Not much more needs to be said. Puck drops tonight at 8 p.m. ET. The time for talk is over, and it's time for the Rangers to go out there and show what they've got.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Powe, Nash Absent From Rangers Practice Today

Some quick updates from practice today, courtesy of Andrew Gross on Twitter:

- Rick Nash missed practice today with a "maintenance day." Nash banged up his knee pretty good while attempting a check late in the second period last night and limped off to the dressing room, but he never missed any time. It's likely that he was receiving treatment toady.

- Darroll Powe also missed practice today, but the Rangers offered no update on his condition after he left the game early in the first period of last night's game. The general belief is that he most likely suffered a concussion. Powe, as you recall, missed time earlier this season with a concussion, as well, so they'll likely be extra careful with him no matter what type of head injury he suffered.

- Ryane Clowe (head injury, believed to be concussion), who was rumored to be close to playing yesterday in Game 3 but ultimately sat out and didn't even skate in warmups, skated once again at practice today. Gotta believe it's just a wait-and-see approach with Clowe from here on out to see how he feels after every time he skates.

- A day after skating in his first game since March 5, Marc Staal skated once again today in practice without any limitations. Not a surprise, but still nice to see that he came out of yesterday's game in good shape.

Rangers Outlast Capitals 4-3 To Take Game 3

How was that for a nail-biting finish? With a one-goal lead and a 6-on-4 advantage for the Capitals on a power play with their goalie pulled in the final two minutes of the game, the Rangers just barely held on and won a critical Game 3 by a score of 4-3. The Capitals now lead the best-of-seven series two games to one, and now Game 4 on Wednesday night becomes just as important for the Rangers as tonight was.

The Rangers got goals from Brian Boyle, Derick Brassard, Arron Asham and Derek Stepan.

I'll give the Rangers credit because they never gave up. Every time they scratched and clawed to get back in the game it seemed like the Capitals were able to immediately answer with a goal of their own. The Rangers took the lead three times in the game and eventually it seemed like this was going to be a game they were destined to lose. But then Derek Stepan came through with the biggest postseason moment of his young career, and the Rangers are suddenly back in this series. Those final two minutes were ridiculously nerve-wrecking and I think I gnawed off just about all my fingernails. It was ironically a throwback to last year's Rangers team, where it came down to blocking shots, winning faceoffs and excelling on the penalty kill to win a game.

Of course, as great as this win feels right now, it means nothing if the Rangers don't go out and take Game 4 at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday. Every game left is a must-win, and the Rangers can't afford to look at it any differently than that. If they can tie this series up before it heads back to Washington, it's a whole different ballgame and this series is anyone's to take. Right now, the Caps are still in the driver's seat.

For the most part, I really thought the Capitals were the better team. They were far and away the better team on even strength, often possessing the puck for ridiculously long stretches in the Rangers' zone and Henrik Lundqvist had stand his ground to try and get a break in play just to stop the momentum. The Capitals, though, took some really boneheaded penalties that was really the difference in this game. The Rangers really had chance after chance to put this game away earlier, but they were only able to convert once on their six power play opportunities. So, instead, the Caps hung around and hung around. The fact that they spent so much time in the Rangers' zone was especially troubling and made me have a continuously bad feeling about the game. But nevertheless, The King held his court and the Rangers got some timely scoring, ultimately outlasting the Caps tonight.

Some notes/thoughts from tonight's game:

- Before getting to the game itself, it was truly incredible seeing Marc Staal return to the ice for the Rangers tonight. It wasn't too long ago when some thought his career could potentially be over after taking a puck to his right eye in a game against the Flyers, and I think we can all remember how disturbing of a sight it was to see Staal writhing in pain and falling to the Garden ice holding his face when it happened. Well, in a must-win game, Staal returned and truly had to provide an emotional lift to his team just from being in the lineup. Staal finished with 17:17 TOI, which is more than I thought he would get in his first game back, and looked close to his old self. His eyesight in his right eye still hasn't fully returned, and it never might, but it's clear that Staal can still be a dominant defenseman for this team.

- Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby boasted that the Rangers didn't challenge him enough in Game 2 (which I think we all can agree with). Well, tonight they challenged him a whole hell of a lot. The Rangers stormed out of the gate and peppered Holtby with 14 shots on goal in the first period, and ended up with 30 total shots on goal in the game. The Rangers clearly did their homework because they were throwing everything at the net, and it's no coincidence that every one of the Rangers' goals tonight came on high shots.I think we all knew through the first two games it was a case of the Rangers making Holtby look a lot better than he really is considering the quality of their shots really weren't half as good as the ones the Caps were getting. Holtby is a butterfly goalie, and he has trouble with high shots. Hopefully, they remember that come Game 4.

- Alex Ovechkin finished the game with two shots on goal and a minus-1 rating with two penalty minutes tonight. I said before the game how important it would be for the Rangers to have another shutdown defenseman in Staal to help shutdown Ovie, and that was what happened tonight. Ovechkin couldn't get away from the Ryan McDonagh-Dan Girardi or Marc Staal-Anton Stralman pairings.

- Speaking of Stralman, wow did he have a great game. He delivered a perfectly executed hip check on Ovechkin in the first period and played probably one of his strongest games this year. He was solid, and there's no doubt playing with Marc Staal tonight helped him tremendously.

- By a show of hands, who had it marked down before the game that the Rangers would score four goals tonight and that two of them would come from Brian Boyle and Arron Asham, who had four goals combined in the regular season? I sure didn't. You've gotta give credit to both guys for grinding and being in the right place at the right time. Asham beat Holtby on a perfect shot just underneath the crossbar off of a beautiful feed from Derick Brassard from the corner. Boyle's goal came just at the expiration of a power play when he made a really nice move and fired a shot that just beat Holtby. As much as you need your goal scorers to step up, it always helps when your third and fourth liners chip in, as well.

- Speaking of Arron Asham, it's funny the way things work out. This morning it looked like Asham would be a healthy scratch to make room for Ryane Clowe (head injury) in the lineup, but Clowe missed tonight's game and didn't even take part in warmups, so Asham remained in the lineup. The next thing you know, he has a huge goal for the Rangers in the third period.

- Darroll Powe left the game early in the first period after delivering a hard hit to Joel Ward along the boards. It was hard to see where exactly Powe got hurt, but he was slow getting up and when he finally did make it back to his feet he fell before making it over to the bench. Powe already suffered a concussion earlier this season, and it certainly seems like a real possibility that he suffered another one tonight.

- Rick Nash registered the primary assist on Derek Stepan's goal (a perfect pass, by the way), which was his first point in the playoffs as a Ranger and his first since the 2008-2009 season with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Overall, Nash now has one goal and three assists in seven career playoff contests. Nash looked to hurt his leg while attempting to deliver a hit late in the second period and limped off to the locker room, but he was fine in the third period and didn't miss any time. I guess it's safe to say he's fine.

- Mats Zuccarello also registered his first career point in the playoffs - an assist on Brassard's goal.

- The Rangers officially went 1-for-6 on the power play, but Brian Boyle's goal came exactly at the two minute mark as one of those power plays expired. So, I guess you could say it was really 2-for-6. Either way, the power play definitely looked a lot more fluid. John Moore, in particular, was shooting every chance he got, which was a nice change from the usual pace.

- Henrik Lundqvist gave up three goals tonight, but man, oh man it could've been a lot worse than that. Lundqvist made several huge stops that could've changed the course of the game, and finished the game with 28 saves overall. Two of the goals he gave up were on deflections that changed direction on him, and the other came off a perfect shot from Mike Green that Lundqvist never saw because he was screened by Taylor Pyatt on the shot.

More to come tomorrow from practice, where hopefully we'll get an update on the statuses of Ryane Clowe and Darroll Powe.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Rangers Set For Critical Game 3; Clowe, Staal Possibilities For Tonight?

Make no mistake about it. Game 3 of tonight's Eastern Quarterfinals matchup against the Washington Capitals is Game 7 for the Rangers - as is every game for the remainder of this series. After losing the first two games of the series in Washington, the Rangers find themselves in a must-win situation and need to win tonight in order to keep their hopes for this season alive. A loss would put them in an insurmountable 3-0 hole. If the Rangers want their season to extend beyond this week, it is vital that they win both of these two games at Madison Square Garden.

Ryane Clowe, who missed the first two games of this series due to what is believed to be a concussion, seems likely to be reinserted into the lineup tonight. Clowe didn't confirm anything to the beat reporters this morning, only saying he's "not sure" if he'll play tonight, but Arron Asham stayed on the ice with the other healthy scratches during this morning's optional practice after Clowe left the ice. That probably wouldn't be the case if Asham was going to play tonight. Marc Staal (eye) also took part in practice this morning, but did not speak to reporters, so his status is unclear. Needless to say, it would be a huge boost to get Clowe and Staal back for tonight, but we'll have to wait and see. If Staal does play, Steve Eminger would likely be scratched to make room for him.

Of course, it doesn't matter who plays tonight if the Rangers can't put the puck in the back of the net. The Rangers are 0-for-7 on the power play in this series and have scored one goal in six periods, including zero in the last five. It no longer matters if the Rangers come out tonight fired up and throwing hard hits - they need to score goals, and score them early. Braden Holtby has not been challenged at all in this series and through the first two games of this series it's been a case of the Rangers making another average goaltender look better than he really is. They need to throw anything and everything at the net and hope they can get bounces to go their way. Passing the puck around a hundred times on the power play isn't going to get it done.

Some of my other thoughts before tonight's game:

- Henrik Lundqvist suffered a stinger when he made a save in yesterday's practice, but he's believed to be fine. There's no way he would sit out tonight's game, obviously. For the Rangers to win, they need a repeat of Henrik Lundqvist's Game 2 performance and not a repeat of Game 1. Unless the Rangers shock everybody and have an offensive explosion tonight where they breakout with a ton of goals, this will likely be another close game in which King Henrik will need to be at his very best in order to keep the Rangers in it.
- I wouldn't be surprised to see Derek Dorsett get some increased ice time tonight, and perhaps even start the game off. I thought he played with a lot of edge to his game and was real physical in his Rangers debut in Game 2. The Rangers could use a spark plug like him to help set the tone early in this game. I also wouldn't be opposed to seeing him get some time on the power play. I don't see how it could hurt to park him in front of the net to screen Holtby.

- If the Rangers are going to win tonight, they will need a big performance out of Rick Nash, who is still looking for his first career victory in the playoffs. Nash hasn't been terrible in these first two games, but he simply needs to score. Getting eight shots on goal is all good and well, but the Rangers need him to start scoring. This team will not survive this series if Nash can't start finding the back of the net.

- As hot of a month as Derek Stepan had in April, he has been ice cold in the first two games of this series. Much like Rick Nash, the Rangers need Stepan to be the elite player he proved to be in April when he was named the third star of the month. The Rangers need their goal-scorers tonight, so this is the time when Stepan needs to prove that he can be relied on as a key part of this team's offense when they need him the most.

- Speaking of offensive players stepping up, I can't help but think that if tonight's game is close that this might be a game where Brad Richards breaks out. We all remember his heroics in the playoffs last year, specifically against the Caps, and he has a knack for this kind of thing. I wouldn't be surprised to see Richards come up with a big goal or a big play tonight for the Rangers.

- I think the Rangers have desperately missed Marc Staal in this series. They've basically had two defensemen in Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh who John Tortorella feels comfortable relying on to shutdown the Capitals, and that simply isn't enough with the offensive firepower that they have. Outside of McDonagh and Girardi, who both haven't exactly had stellar series' so far, the Rangers have been forced to role with four defensemen who ideally would be fifth and sixth defensemen if the Rangers had it their way. Anton Stralman and John Moore haven't been terrible in this series, but they have been asked to play over their heads. Getting Staal back would be a huge boost to help shutdown the Capitals' offense.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Rangers Drop Game 1 To Capitals 3-1; Clowe, Staal and Doresett Practice

The Rangers dropped last night's Game 1 contest to the Washington Capitals 3-1 and now find themselves in an 0-1 hole heading into Game 2 tomorrow of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. After jumping out to a 1-0 lead in the first period, the Capitals scored three unanswered goals and the Rangers were never really able to find their game. Their top offensive guns, Rick Nash, Derek Stepan, Brad Richards and Ryan Callahan, failed to generate much of anything, and the team fell apart in the second period when the Capitals scored two goals in a span of 46 seconds.

To be honest, I really don't think the Rangers played well at all at any point in last night's game. They were obviously ridiculously lucky to get out of the first period with a lead, and it pretty much all went downhill after that. They got off to a terrible start, which I said in my three keys to getting a win last night was a major no-no, and played like a team that was totally unprepared for the Capitals' offense. The Capitals were firing anything and everything on Henrik Lundqvist last night, and it ultimately paid off when their third goal came off a ridiculously bad angle shot that Lundqvist simply has to stop. The Rangers, on the other hand, never played with any offensive game plan until the score became 3-1, and at that point the game seemed like it was totally out of reach with the way the Rangers looked last night.

The first period last night wasn't necessarily good, but it was what I expected. I thought it was vitally important for the Rangers to survive the first period and just get into the first intermission scoreless. Turns out, they did one better and somehow came out of the first with a 1-0 lead despite the Capitals dictating play and out-shooting the Rangers 14-8 in the period. That being said, I never felt comfortable with the way the Rangers looked. It's one thing to play a conservative first period on the road to wait for the energy of the home crowd to die down, and it's another to play a conservative first period because you're taking boneheaded penalties and look lost on the ice. The Rangers just could not generate any momentum last night and seemed to spend way too much time in their own zone.

- Before I get to the action of the game itself, I have to bring up the fact that the officiating was absolutely abysmal last night. The always-incompetent NHL refs called an uneven game that the Rangers came out on the wrong end of, as always seems the case. The charging call on Arron Asham that resulted in the Capitals' first goal was a total joke, as was the roughing call on Ryan Callahan at 10:44 of the second period. Callahan was cross-checked four or five times directly in front of the referee's eyesight in front of the net by John Erskine and the only call that was made on that sequence was somehow on Callahan. I guess getting cross-checked constitutes as a roughing minor in the NHL's world. On the Capitals' third goal, Anton Stralman was hooked to the point that he was spun around and lost the puck. And, of course, the referees failed to overturn what should have been the Rangers' second goal late in the third period on a shot from John Moore that would've been physically impossible for Holtby to keep out of the net considering how deep he was playing and reached behind him over the goal line to try and grab the puck. Not much more needs to be said. I fully expect the Rangers to get the short end of the stick every time out, but it's still frustrating to see a playoff game called so poorly time and time again with nothing being done to try and make sure it doesn't happen again.

- The biggest culprit for the Rangers' Game 1 loss was, without a doubt, the power play. The Rangers had a 5-on-3 man advantage for 56 seconds in the second period after the Capitals took a two-goal lead and went 0-for-5 on the power play overall with eight shots on goal. Even on goal would've completely changed the flow of the game. It was basically everything we've come to expect from a Rangers power play - too many guys standing around, too much passing and not enough shots. It seemed like most shots the Rangers did take were either wide or blocked. You simply cannot afford to let those types of opportunities come and go without taking advantage of them, and that's exactly what the Rangers did. A power play goal on the 5-on-3, in my opinion, would have changed the outcome of the game. The Rangers were playing like a team with no confidence, and a big goal would've definitely helped them with that.

- Carl Hagelin was, obviously, the only Ranger who did pretty much anything last night. His goal came with a bit of luck, as it deflected off John Erskine's skate during a wrap-around attempt, but it was a perfect example of what Hagelin brings to the table with his speed. He was making things happen all night, which is more than can be said for any other Ranger. It probably would've made sense to give him some power play time given how well he was playing, but for some reason John Tortorella thought otherwise. Unfortunately, I think the turning point of the game came when Hagelin failed to convert on a short-handed breakaway. A goal there would've put the Rangers up 2-0 and in the driver's seat, but Holtby just got a piece of Hagelin's shot to steer it wide and off the glass. Would've liked to have seen a different move from Hags there, but it is what it is.

- Rick Nash attempted 16 shots last night, with eight of them being registered on goal. For the most part he really didn't have a good game and wasn't noticeable, but I blame that more on the fact that the Rangers didn't consistently generate any offense until the game was out of reach. The Rangers will need Nash to carry the offense this series if they want to advance and they'll need to come up with a better game plan to put more pressure on the Capitals in their zone come Game 2.

- With Marc Staal out, the Rangers need Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh to pretty much play a flawless series as the anchor on their defense. That wasn't the case last night. The Caps' second goal came when McDonagh and Girardi both got caught sleeping in the neutral zone and left Marcus Johansson alone in the middle of the ice to get free for a breakaway. McDonagh also took a holding penalty (still don't know how that was a hold) late in the first period because the puck got by him while he was trying to chip the puck deep in the neutral zone.

- Chris Kreider finished with 8:23 TOI with no power play time despite technically playing on the Rangers' third line. I truly don't understand why he isn't getting a better opportunity, but I'm resigned to the fact that Torts just does not trust this kid this year under any circumstances for whatever reason. If and when Ryane Clowe and Derek Dorsett are ready to return to the lineup both Kreider and Kris Newbury have to be the odd men out. If Torts isn't going to try and give the kid more ice time when this team is starved for offense, why even play him?

- Speaking of Clowe and Dorsett, I really hope they are ready to join the lineup for Game 2. The Rangers noticeably lacked an edge to their game last night and I think having a guy who could bang bodies and deliver some hits might have changed the momentum in the game a bit. At the worst, at least it would've put a hurting on some players on the Caps, who had no problem roughing up the Rangers any chance they got.

- Dan Girardi led all skaters with 29:00 TOI. The Rangers desperately need Marc Staal to come back to help pick up the heavy load of minutes Giradi and McDonagh have had to carry in his absence.

- Derek Stepan failed to record a point last night and now has one goal and nine assists in 26 career playoff games.

- Some good news from practice today: Ryane Clowe (undisclosed, but presumably a head injury) and Derek Dorsett (fractured clavicle) both participated in practice today. Clowe, wearing a non-contact jersey, didn't rule himself out of Game 2 tomorrow, but he also didn't give a definitive answer as to whether or not he thinks he'll be cleared by the Rangers' medical staff for contact in time for tomorrow's game. Dorsett practiced fully and was cleared for contact for the first time since being acquired by the Rangers on April 3. Brian Boyle (right knee) also skated on his own after taking part in yesterday's optional practice, and Marc Staal (right eye) skated in a red jersey just like all the other defensemen. It would certainly be a gigantic boost to the team to get any of those guys back any time soon. If I had to guess, it seems like Dorsett is the closest to returning (I guess I should say debuting?) out of the four.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Captain Cally's OT Heroics Leads Rangers To Playoffs

The Rangers' race to the Stanley Cup playoffs finally culminated in a thrilling 4-3 overtime win last night against the Carolina Hurricanes, thanks to the overtime heroics of, who else, but captain Ryan Callahan. After watching Carolina dominate most of the play in the Rangers' zone in overtime, Captain Cally roofed a wrist shot just under the cross bar streaking down the left wing to beat Dan Ellis. The Captain delivered a clutch performance when his team needed him the most, and his overtime celebration was absolutely priceless.

With the Rangers winning last night and the Islanders losing, the Rangers moved into seventh place in the conference. Depending on what happens the rest of the way with other teams, the Rangers could finish the regular season as high as sixth in the standings or as low as eighth. Their first round opponent will either be the Penguins, Bruins, Capitals or Canadiens, and the Rangers will obviously be opening the playoffs on the road no matter who they play. The Winnipeg Jets have officially been eliminated from the playoffs, and as it turns out they would have been eliminated even if the Rangers lost because the Jets wound up losing to the Canadiens later on in the night.

The game, like the Rangers' entire season, was far from easy and felt like it would be an incredibly frustrating loss until Brad Richards' power play goal that bounced off the boards and went in the net after Hurricanes goalie Dan Ellis accidentally kicked it into his own net. I have to admit, after seeing the way the Rangers lost to the Panthers just two days earlier, this game had an eerily similar feeling and I was convinced that the Rangers were going to find themselves in a position where they had to beat the Devils on Saturday to be able to sneak into the playoffs as the eighth seed (the Jets' loss to the Canadiens wasn't final at the time the Rangers won). Thankfully, it didn't come to that. That doesn't change the fact, however, that for a majority of this game it seemed like this was going to be a frustrating loss where the Rangers outperformed their opponent in nearly every category in the boxscore, but still couldn't win. The team got off to a great start with two goals in the first period, but their play noticeably slipped in the second period and they let the Hurricanes back into the game with two goals in the second period and another quick one to start the third. I also thought the Rangers were out-chanced and outplayed for pretty much the entire overtime period until Ryan Callahan's goal.

But what does that matter? Nothing because the bottom line is the Rangers got the win and they're going to the playoffs. When they needed a big play and a big goal, their team leaders Brad Richards and Ryan Callahan stepped up and delivered in a big way.

Some notes and observations from the game:

- D-Step continued his torrid pace in April (seven goals, 10 assists for 17 points in 13 games) with a goal and an assist and overtook Rick Nash for the team lead in points (42 points in 47 games). To say that Derek Stepan has blossomed this season would be an understatement. The kid has become one of the most dynamic players on the Rangers and has left no debate that he is the team's No. 1 center. Something that I didn't realize when looking at Stepan's stats today is that he has a plus-minus rating of 23, which is sixth best in the entire league. That's a pretty telling stat when you consider that Stepan has been a top-six player all year long while getting top minutes on the team's power play and penalty killing units.

- Derick Brassard potted a goal last night and now has 11 points in 12 games with the Rangers since coming over in the Marian Gaborik trade. I wasn't originally sure of what to expect from the kid when the Rangers first got him, but he's been an awesome addition and I keep forgetting that he's only 25 years old, too.

- Brad Richards extended his point-streak to five games and has put up five goals and four assists for nine points in that span. Overall, in April he has posted 16 points in 13 games and has raised his points total on the season to a respectable 32 in 45 games. Richie's game has absolutely elevated since the trade deadline and the team made some major shakeups that included dealing Marian Gaborik to Columbus. Is it a coincidence? Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. All I know is Richards has returned to form and looked like the player he was one year ago. I never wrote him off as being done the way others have at times this year, so it's nice to see my faith in him is finally paying off.

- Ryan Callahan extended his point-streak to six games with a goal and an assist last night, registering four goals and five assists during that span. Captain Cally led all forwards in the game with 26:17 TOI and led all skaters with 6 shots on goal.

- Taylor Pyatt extended his point-streak to five games (!!) with an assist last night and now has two goals and three assists for five points during that span. Pyatt has stepped up in a big way playing on the third line since Brian Boyle's knee injury, and if the Rangers can continue to get some secondary scoring out of him that would be just grand going into the playoffs.

- Matt Gilroy appeared in his first game since March 12th, and dressed as an emergency fourth forward because Arron Asham missed the game to be with his wife, who was going into labor. Gilroy took two awful tripping penalties in the game - the second of which led to a Hurricanes power play goal - and I don't think he saw the ice at all after his second penalty. He registered just 3:15 TOI, which was a game-low for anybody on either team. It's really a tough spot for Gilroy to be in, so I kind of feel for him a little bit. He was playing his first game in over a month and was it wasn't even at his natural position.

- Ryane Clowe left last night's game in the second period after taking an elbow to his head while battling for the puck along the boards on a Rangers power play and did not return to the game. He looked noticeably dazed after it happened and needed to be helped off the ice to the locker room during the next TV timeout following the hit. Clowe did not participate in practice today and the Rangers recalled forward Kris Newbury from the Connecticut Whale (AHL), which I don't take as a good sign at all. I hate to speculate, but at this point all signs point to it being a concussion, which would be a big blow to the team. Clowe isn't the flashiest player, but he's emerged as a locker room leader and brings an element of toughness and character that the Rangers previously lacked all year long until they acquired him. Either way, I don't expect John Tortorella to give any updates on his condition moving forward since the Rangers are even more tight-lipped than usual when it comes to their players' health during the playoffs.

- Despite Ryane Clowe exiting the game in the second period and not returning, Chris Kreider registered just 7:05 TOI with no power play time despite being moved up to the third line in the third period. I really don't understand what the point is of having Kreider in the lineup getting under 10 minutes a game, but I've said all I can about it at this point. All we can hope is that he takes this season as a learning experience and gives John Tortorella a reason to trust him with a bigger role next season.

- Speaking of John Tortorella, with the Rangers clinching a playoff birth I have to believe that eliminated any possibility of Torts getting fired after the season. I never thought there was much of a chance that Glen Sather would fire him anyway, but still. I'd say it's almost a 100-percent certainty Tortorella will return next season, and I'd be absolutely stunned if he doesn't considering how loyal Slats is to his coaches. Mike Sullivan, on the other hand, is another case that I hope the Rangers will review following the season.

- Rick Nash was pretty much a surprising non-factor last night, registering only two shots on goal and finishing with a minus-1 rating, and is in a small slump. In his last three games Nash has failed to record a point, registering a minus-2 rating with eight shots on goal. All I can say is get it all out of your system now, Nasher, so you can be at your best come Game 1 of the playoffs.

- The Rangers out-shot the Hurricanes 38-21. The Rangers out-shot them in the second and third periods by a combined total of 28-6.

- Despite the Rangers clinching the playoffs last night, Henrik Lundqvist said following the game that he would like to play in Saturday's regular season finale against the Devils. The game isn't completely meaningless since the Rangers could still move up in the standings, so I think there's a real shot that Lundqvist will start tomorrow at the Garden. Might as well give The King the start if he really wants it when you consider the fact that the Rangers won't be in action after tomorrow until Tuesday or Wednesday. He'll get a nice break either way.

That's it for today. The Rangers will be back at it tomorrow night against the Devils from the Garden. We should learn much more about the playoff seeding and all that by tomorrow night.