I will try to contain my emotions that this will be my last trip here for a while — barring an unforeseen switch to the Arena Football beat (I should keep my voice down. I don’t want to give the boss any ideas).
But at least tonight will be packed with meaning. It used to be that qualifying for the playoffs in the NHL was about as noteworthy as getting a base hit in tee ball. But the 30-team league has changed that dynamic, and as any Rangers fan will know, it’s hardly a given.
Yes, these Rangers were always supposed to make the playoffs, and should they never make it past the first round, the season will be a disappointment. But given where this team was around the All-Star break, a clinch tonight would at least be worth celebrating.
“It’s an accomplishment for me,” Tom Renney said with a laugh. “No, it is an accomplishment. It’s a very, very competitive league and this has been one of the better years in a long time in terms of the space between one and eight and eight and the rest. I think it’s super. I think it’s outstanding for the league, outstanding for the fans, and certainly for the teams who play hard right to the end, as they should. This is serious stuff.”
<li>Brendan Shanahan is out tonight because of the leg strain sustained Monday, but Tom Renney said he has “no doubt” that Shanahan will be ready for tomorrow. Of course, whether Renney chooses to use him is a different story. Asked if his plan for the veteran changes if the Rangers win tonight, Renney said he was pleading the fifth. I’m sure you can read between the lines with that one.
<li>In Shanahan’s place, Jason Strudwick will skate on the fourth line, while Petr Prucha will presumably take Shanahan’s place alongside Scott Gomez and Sean Avery. Blair Betts is also out tonight, but Renney said tomorrow is a possibility for the center.
<li>The defensive pairings will be a continuation of what Renney switched to late in the Pittsburgh win, with Marc Staal skating with Michal Rozsival and Paul Mara skating with Christian Backman. The other pairing of Fedor Tyutin and Dan Girardi will stay the same.
<li>The team did not conduct even an optional morning skate for as long as I can remember. Renney said it was to force his team to take a breather before a three in four nights stretch.