There is no such thing as a must-win in December of a hockey season. There just isn’t.
But there are crucial junctures to seasons, and they can pop up at any time, and for the Rangers this might be one of them. A home-and-home against the Islanders, tonight at MSG, tomorrow in Uniondale. No, it isn’t imperative that the Rangers sweep. But it is imperative that they don’t get swept, because in their fragile state it could be a death blow (Seinfeld reference).
That would be a disaster, an embarrassment of grand proportions. We already know that the Islanders beat the Rangers 3-1 out there in the only meeting so far, back when the Islanders couldn’t beat a drum. They sure aren’t that bad any more, even if they have slipped (1-4 in their last five, including an ugly 7-1 loss to Florida the other night). And the Rangers sure aren’t that team with the big expectations that they were earlier in the season, either. They have fallen and they can’t get up, with one win in the last eight games, a couple of those decided by a skills competition.
The Isles are also similar to the Rangers in the scoring department (84 goals in 33 games, compared to the Rangers’ 88 in 32). I’ve asked this question before, but would you trade the Rangers’ forwards for the Islanders’ young forwards right now?
But here’s something else I’ve mentioned before, and I still believe. The Rangers, bad as they’ve been, soft and thin as they are, are the benefactors of a weak East, and just a couple of wins away from being in the playoff picture. They are 11th in the East, but two points out of eighth. And which team is going to run away and hide? Montreal? Florida? Toronto? Tampa? The Islanders? They’re all in the same boat. Only the Flyers should get markedly better among those in the bottom nine right now.
I still think the Rangers will have a shot at a playoff spot in the final week of the season. I think they will have some ups to go with these downs. This is as good a time as any to start one.
I’m heading to the Garden this afternoon. I’ll check in later.