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The Rangers had a day off on Thursday, a much-needed breather and a rare two-day break between games in this hacked-off 48-game season.
And their day off couldn’t have been worse. They had no control over what went on Thursday, and what went on was that the Rangers got no help.
The Islanders won in Boston. Ottawa won in Philadelphia. Winnipeg beat Florida. The Rangers lost two points in the standings to each of those teams. The Senators and Islanders are now two points ahead of the Rangers, who have eight games remaining. Winnipeg moved into a tie in points with the eighth-place Rangers, who have two games in hand on the Jets and one on the Islanders.
Worse, probably, than what Thursday wreaked on the Rangers is what it did for the Islanders, who are now 8-1-1 in their last 10 and host the Rangers Saturday night.
I’ve said this before, that I don’t believe in the Islanders as I once did. I think they are one great player, and a bunch of good ones and a number of borderline ones and a hot goalie. Perspective: They have had a fabulous season and the Rangers have been riddled in mediocrity and yet they had the same record before last night.
But the Islanders are playing with house money, just letting it fly, having a blast, able to sustain emotion and to pressure opponents, and daring foes to try to match their intensity.
The Rangers’ desperation is of another ilk, one of un-met expectations, disappointments and—that word again—mediocrity. They have rarely sustained for close to the requisite 60 minutes the type of fire the Islanders now regularly bring. They have tons of the weight of pressure; the Islanders not even an ounce.
So I have a hard time conjuring up the Rangers being able to tame the Islanders in what will be a loud Nassau Coliseum, in the type of game that crappy old building hasn’t seen in years, in a rivalry that for decades now has been the Islanders’ Stanley Cup and an inconvenience for the Rangers. How many times have we seen the Rangers fail to match the Islanders’ intensity from the start of a game? Not that I doubt the Rangers can win. But just that I think it will take one of their best games of this season to do so, and I don’t know if they have it in them at this point in time.
The Rangers are on a little roll of their own, even if it is only in the book-keeping ledger. They are 4-1-1 in their last six, with nine of the last possible 12 points. That, I think, needs an asterisk of explanation. They beat Winnipeg handily. They trounced the Penguins a day after Pittsburgh lost its 15-game winning streak and hours after the Rangers remade a chunk of their roster at the trade deadline.
Two nights later the Rangers played their best game of the streak and perhaps their best game of the season, and lost in a shootout to the Penguins. Then they played a lousy game in Carolina and Henrik Lundqvist stole it. That was followed by a home-and-home with Toronto, a series the Rangers had a chance to sweep and/or be swept. They were horrific defensively in Toronto yet came from behind to tie it late, only to cough it up 39 seconds later. And they were bad and good and bad and good in spots in the rematch, a shootout win.
So the 4-1-1 has been a microcosm of the Rangers’ up and down season.
And on Saturday, off the L.I.E., we will see what kind of backbone they have … or have we already seen it?
John Tavares photo by Getty Images.