The Rangers Have Clinched, And Are Ready To Go!

Rick Nash (Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports)
Rick Nash has been a big factor for the Rangers this season (Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports)

Indeed they have – the Rangers’ win in OT versus the Carolina Hurricanes has secured them a spot in the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

It has been a trying season for the New York Rangers. In the offseason, the Rangers made their customary big splash — this time, however, they acquired their target, Rick Nash, through trade, rather than free agency. With that move, the expectations were sky high, as they were the year prior. Unlike 2011-2012, however, the Rangers have not delivered in the regular season. Through 47 games, the Rangers are 25-18-4, and are currently sitting in the seventh spot, above the Islanders by virtue of a greater number of ROWs.

Who would have predicted that a roster which featured proven offensive stars in Brad Richards, Rick Nash, and Marian Gaborik up front would have trouble scoring?

Well, the Rangers have been plagued with inconsistency this season. The only true constants for the Rangers this year have been Derek Stepan, Rick Nash, and Henrik Lundqvist. Injuries have also played a role. Nash missed four games earlier in the year with an undisclosed injury (many speculated that it was a concussion, but there is no evidence to back up that claim), Marc Staal hasn’t played a game since March 5th, after he was struck in the eye with a puck (he has missed 26 games since the injury), and each of Brad Richards, Ryan McDonagh, Ryan Callahan, and Dan Girardi have suffered injuries, although the games missed between those four isn’t a large number. The main problem, though, has been consistency.

The big names for the Rangers struggled for much of the first 30 games. Brad Richards, through 30 games, had a mere 18 points. Marian Gaborik also had only 18 points through 30. Ryan Callahan, although he was recovering from a shoulder separation for most of the first 30 games, also struggled to produce, managing only 15 points in his first 30 games. Brian Boyle’s production has also taken a significant dip in comparison to his prior two seasons. While these players struggled to find their offensive game, Rick Nash and Derek Stepan decided to grab the bull by the horns and help lead this team into the playoffs. Nash has 40 points in 43 games, and Derek Stepan has 42 points in 47 games played. The latter has been the Rangers’ MVP this season, outside of Henrik Lundqvist.

The Rangers, sitting in ninth place at the time of the trade deadline, made two key trades — the Gaborik trade, which has been discussed ad nauseam, and the Ryane Clowe trade. General manager Glen Sather also brought Mats Zuccarello back into the fold two games prior to the deadline. These trades and the re-signing of Zuccarello have provided the Rangers with a much needed spark. Since those moves were made, the Rangers have gone an impressive 8-3-1, with their acquisitions providing excellent productions. Brassard has 11 points in 12 games as a Ranger,  Clowe has eight points in 12 games, Zuccarello has seven points in 14 games, and even John Moore has a solid five points in those 12 games.These moves have really added depth to the Rangers’ lineup, something that they lost in the Rick Nash trade. It has turned them into a much, much better team than they were to start to the season. It has also helped kickstart the games of Ryan Callahan and Brad Richards. Callahan has nine points in his last six games, including the OT winner tonight, and Brad Richards had nine points in his last five games, including the game-tying goal tonight.

The Rangers are starting to get hot at the right time. Most believe the Rangers have the roster to compete — now, the question is whether or not they can maintain their current play through the playoffs. It remains to be seen, but the possibility is there, much more so than it appeared to be prior to the trade deadline. Getting Brian Boyle, Derek Dorsett, and Marc Staal into the lineup for the playoffs would certainly help, as well.

– While the Rangers have clinched, their position in the standings has not been determined as of yet. The Islanders have another game tomorrow against the Sabres, and the Senators has two games left themselves against the Bruins and Flyers. The Rangers play their final game on Saturday against the Devils. If the Rangers win in regulation or overtime, they cannot finish lower than seventh place. They could finish as high as sixth if the Senators lose one of their games in regulation.

– Ryane Clowe left tonight’s game versus the Hurricanes with what appeared to be a head/neck injury. Clowe was injured when Bobby Sanguinetti inadvertently elbowed him in the head. There is no update on his current status, but forward Kris Newbury has been recalled from the AHL, indicating that Clowe will more than likely miss the final game of the season.