Rested Rangers Focused on Playoffs

Fifty games are in the books. The holiday break, the “bye” week, and the All-Star Break have all come and gone.

And now it gets real for the Rangers. Thirty-two games remain, with 19 of them on the road. So how do they react? How do they find the consistency they will need to get into the playoffs?

How will they gain a berth in a Metro Division that has eight teams vying for five playoff spots, six of those separated by two points heading into Monday’s games – and if you want to assume Pittsburgh and Washington are getting in, then six teams for three spots?

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“We understand that our most important hockey is coming up right now and we need our best from everybody,” J.T. Miller said Tuesday.

“We should be rested up, ready to go for February, March … and obviously April. This is a big stretch of 32 games here for us and we understand we need everybody to bring their best, starting this week.

“It’s our push to the playoffs. That’s what it is. It’s our push. It’s going to be tight. It’s not going to be easy to get in. We know that every year, and we have a lot of good teams fighting for a couple of spots in the playoffs. So we can’t try to get in in one game. We’ve got to worry about this week and go from there. Everybody came back from the break in a good mood, ready to go, and we’re excited to get back.”

The Rangers hit the ice at practice Tuesday – everyone but all-star Henrik Lundqvist, who got an extra day off – with recalled (from Hartford) Tony DeAngelo and Peter Holland, and a newcomer, banger Cody McLeod, who is set to make his debut Thursday against Toronto.

It seems that the Rangers have been in fits-and-starts mode since the Christmas break, so other than long-term injuries to Chris Kreider and Kevin Shattenkirk, they ought to have plenty in the tank.

Kevin Shattenkirk discloses his meniscus tear, what his plan is for the remainder of the season and why he chose to have the surgery now.

“You know what? They’ve had enough time off,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. “It’s time to play. We’ve got 32 games left here, it’s time to focus on playing well and getting points.”

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There is a consideration coming this month, though. The Rangers are very likely, if not certain, to continue by the Feb. 26 trade deadline the rebuild program that began with the Derek Stepan trade last June, and they have an opportunity to move current assets for future ones.

“I’m not at all concerned about the white noise surrounding any trade period,” Vigneault said.

“As a player, you’re a professional. You’ve got to focus on what your game is, what you need to do. And as a coach and a coaching staff, you have to make sure that your players are focusing on the right things and working on the right things on and off the ice. That’s exactly what we’re doing.”

About the packed NHL standings, and the comfort level or lack thereof it affords, Vigneault said, “I think there are a couple of teams, and without naming teams, there might be three or four teams right now, four or five, that are in a comfortable position. All the other ones, comfort? I don’t see it.

“I think this is going to be a lot of fun for guys who love the competition. I just look at the teams and how close we all are as far as what we put on the ice and it’s going to be a battle. It’s going to take your best effort, your best preparation. Everybody’s got around the same number of games left, so it should be good.”

Miller, who at times has been among the Rangers’ best skaters, and at times has found himself benched, was asked what it will take for the Rangers to find that consistency.

“Something we’ve talked about this year is good starts,” said Miller of one area that was a bit better on the just-finished four-game (1-3) Western trip.

“Obviously those could be more consistent. Just taking care of the puck. Other teams are going to get looks. That’s just the way the game goes. But you can’t give them their looks. They’re going to have to be able to make plays around you. I think when we make it easy on the other team is when it really hurts us.”

This is not a time for self-inflicted wounds. It is not a time for tentativeness. Or inconsistency. A playoff berth is right there, within the Rangers’ reach, and should be no matter what at the trade deadline.

It’s up to them.

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