One of my least-favorite phrases in sports is the dreaded must win. I believe a former New York coach once said “You play to win the game,” if I’m not mistaken. After all, shouldn’t every game during a season be a must win? It’s not like a team goes out on any given night and thinks to themselves, “Eh, tonight isn’t that important, I don’t think we really need to win.”
Unless it’s an elimination game, every time a team takes the ice, field, court or whatever surface it plays on, it should never be called a must win, because winning is the main objective every time.
Tonight’s game against the Minnesota Wild is an absolute MUST win for the New York Rangers.
The Rangers currently sit seventh in the Eastern Conference standings, but just three points ahead of ninth-place Buffalo.
With three games in hand, the Sabres are just one of several teams that could slide by the Blueshirts and push them from the playoff picture.
While the teams trying to catch the Rangers and Hurricanes for the final spots in the Eastern Conference are playing some of their best hockey of the season, such as the Devils who have surged back up the rankings–just nine points out of eighth place–and the Maple Leafs, who have only lost once in regulation over their last 10 games, earning 14 of 20 points, the Rangers have been marred in a slump.
New York has only won four of its past 13 games–only twice in regulation.
Over the past 13 games, the Rangers have scored two or fewer goals in eight contests.
The Rangers had an opportunity to stretch the gap between themselves and the Sabres Tuesday night when they hosted Buffalo, but failed to do so, losing 3-2.
After tonight’s game against the Wild, who find themselves in a similar situation, the Rangers only play teams below them in the playoff hunt three times. They travel to Buffalo for a rematch on March 30, and close out the season with two games at the Garden against Atlanta and New Jersey.
Because they are unable to steal points from rival opponents, games like tonight’s are all the more important.
Minnesota will not be an easy contest for the Rangers, however.
Like New York, the Wild are battling to make the playoffs in the Western Conference. Unlike the East where there is a little more breathing room, the Western Conference race is as unpredictable as Lady Gaga’s wardrobe.
The Wild currently sit in 11th place, just two points out of eight place for the final spot. Not too bad, right? Oh, I forgot to mention, they’re also just four points out of fourth place! Only seven points separate the fourth-place Blackhawks and 12th-place Blue Jackets!
No pressure, guys.
Minnesota is coming fresh off a 4-1 thumping from the New York Islanders last night, so they’re going to be playing with even more tenacity and desperation then before.
To make matters worse, Minnesota is 11th in the NHL in goals against, which wont bode well for the Rangers’ anemic offense.
It’s absolutely crucial for the Blueshirts to pick up two points tonight, as the Maple Leafs, Hurricanes, Thrashers and Sabres are all in action.
Unless the Rangers want to find themselves in a similar fate as last year, when it came down to Olli Jokinen as the final shooter in the final game of the season against Philadelphia for the final playoff spot, they must start winning games.
Like I said, if I was ever going to throw around the dreaded must win, tonight’s the night.