1) Things got awfully simple thanks to Philly yesterday. Would have been more simple, obviously, if the Rangers had been able to finish things off. So they go to the final three games — at Philly tomorrow, at Pitt Thursday, home against Washington Saturday — needing a point, or for Pittsburgh to lose a game in any manner. I know, this is way better for the Rangers and for you guys. The final week of scoreboard watching and all the crazy possibilities was kind of more fun when they were fighting for a playoff spot. For me, anyway.
2) Though watching the eighth-place silliness could be fun this week. That was a gigantic point picked up by Florida in Detroit yesterday — in keeping with the Panthers’ season, which is built almost entirely on shootout wins and Bettman Bonus Points for losses. Otherwise, I think the Capitals would have had a great chance to not only knock the Panthers out of third, but for Buffalo to knock them into ninth, too. Now I think Florida makes the playoffs, and Washington still has a chance to win the division and the third seed with that head-to-head game Thursday.
3) Marian Gaborik … it’s really not shocking he scored 40 again. It is shocking, maybe, that he’s been so healthy for three years. That was the big part of the gamble with him, remember? The big worry. Could he stay on the ice enough to earn his paychecks. He’s played all 79 this season, and 217 of 242 since he signed, after playing 17 games the year before he signed. Guy’s been money this year again. He’s only the third Ranger ever to score 40 more than once (Jean Ratelle twice; Mike Gartner three times). Good for him. He deserves it.
4) Speaking of 40, this loss might have cost Henrik Lundqvist a chance to get 40 wins … He was looking for a career-high 39th. He’ll probably start the next two, I would think, and get Saturday off if the Rangers have the conference title clinched. Maybe he can go 2-0 here and get it.
5) Answer to last night’s trivia question. The Rangers have finished in first place six times in their 86-year history. That includes three times in the Original Six-team league (’27, ’32, ’42), the two Presidents’ Trophy years (’92 and ’94) and the division title in ’90.
6) I saw where Peter Laviolette called Dan Bylsma gutless after the game yesterday. Yeah, that Laviolette is a real tough guy. And Philly has never done anything like that before, right? Laviolette and Tony Granato, who were screaming from the top of the benches toward one another, were Rangers teammates for Laviolette’s entire 12-game NHL career, which I covered, by the way. (Jaromir Jagr’s take on the shout-down by Laviolette: “Too much coffee.”). Isn’t it great when both Philly and Pittsburgh go away crying? … by the way, that Dick Vitale hit on Daniel Briere, which started the whole fracas, was as good a clean, hard check as you can ever see. The cross-check by Braydon Schenn on Skid Crosby, a little bit earlier, not so much.
7) That 1993-94 team was great, and it became even more loaded with the trades during the season — Larmer, Kyrpeos, and the deadline deals for Matteau, Noonan, MacTavish and Anderson … But that team didn’t have to work this hard. It had a lot of nights where it was just the better team and able to pummel the opponent, and it had more gimme’s in an expansion era. This Rangers team has done it on a much more difficult road, and with less talent or experience on its roster. A lot less.
8) Speaking of which, good to see the great man, Sergei Nemchinov at the game. I’ll never forget how hurt Mark Messier was when the Rangers traded Nemchinov.
9) Anton Stralman spent almost the entire night matched up against Milan Lucic, and I thought he was physically and positionally solid. Good game by him.
10) So it’s 2-1, end of second, and to entertain the crowd they showed a Bobby Orr feature on the big board? What? Really?
11) So, Michael Del Zotto’s little take-out bump behind the net was a game-deciding penalty, but Zdeno Chara breaking his stick on Brian Boyle’s back, behind the play and not five feet from ref Don van Massenhoven, is not a penalty?
12) Is there anything Tim Thomas does that’s not annoying? He’s banging his stick on the posts all game long — picked up by the mic behind the net. And he’s wearing those long black stockings behind his pads — not the team uniform, so it should be illegal, right? What a jackwagon.
13) A couple of April fools at MSG asked me if the Rangers are really going to give up home ice in the first two games of the playoffs. And at least two other blogs picked up my “breaking news” yesterday. Which makes me really, really happy in a stupid, sick way.
14) I always think of Michel Bergeron (left) and Phil Esposito and that amateur-hour clown show on April 1, 1989. Which most of us thought, at the time, had to be a joke. My God.
My Three Rangers Stars:
1) Marian Gaborik.
2) Ryan Callahan.
3) Dan Girardi.
Alec Berg’s Three Rangers Stars:
1) Marc Staal.
2) Artem Anisimov.
3) Either of the Ryans (Callahan or McDonagh).
AP photos, above.