Rangers’ Late Dash For Playoffs Continues Against Winnipeg

The Rangers host the Winnipeg Jets tonight at The Garden.

It is the second and final meeting between the two teams. The Blueshirts defeated the Jets in Winnipeg in mid-February by a 3-1 count when Jimmy Vesey scored in the latter part of the third period to break a 1-1 tie. Michael Grabner added an empty-netter to seal the victory. Since then, the Blueshirts have a record of 3-6-1 and a remade roster. The Jets are on a 7-3-0 run and are a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.

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The Rangers are coming off a successful road sweep of western Canada where they defeated Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton. The wins have certainly lightened the mood given all that had happened going into, and at the trade deadline. The six points has resurrected thoughts of a playoff spot, and yet it is a stretch to think that postseason play will come to fruition.

The victories over the Canucks and Flames came on the shoulders of Henrik Lundqvist, who was utterly brilliant while facing an astounding 105 shots in the six periods of regulation hockey. Alexandar Georgiev got the start in Edmonton and had a much sounder game in front of him, and he was able to record his first NHL victory. While the Blueshirts did not play themselves out of postseason participation on the trip, they will need to play the fundamentally sound game that was evident against the Oilers to have any shot of extending their schedule beyond April 7th.

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Amongst all that has gone on in the last month or so, the play of Georgiev may very well be the one thing that is the most significant. It is much too early with just three starts under his belt to conclude that he will be the heir apparent to Henrik, but his game sure has been impressive. The 22-year old Bulgarian-born puck stopper has been poised and confident while playing with a unique ability to get to the proper position quietly. Moving forward, goaltending will be the key to staying competitive while the franchise looks to get younger, quicker and more skilled. The King is not getting any younger and can’t be expected to continually carry the full load. Filling his large skates will be a daunting task, and yet given the very early results, it sure looks like Alexandar Georgiev has the makings of being that guy. It certainly bears keeping a close eye on.

The Jets are legitimate, after a couple of years being one of the league’s more disappointing teams. They are a big, fast and skilled club who play a hard, heavy game. The speed of Winnipeg’s game defies their physical size. Deadline acquisition, center Paul Stastny adds to an already deep roster of forwards. Connor Hellebuyck has had a breakout season in goal. The Jets defensemen may not be quite as gifted offensively as Nashville, but there isn’t a team in the league that wouldn’t take the Jets’ top-six blueliners. They may not have the playoff experience that might be necessary come springtime, but it would not shock me to see Winnipeg advance from the West to the Cup Finals.

KEYS

1. Play on Toes

The Rangers cannot expect to have any chance against the Jets by playing a game on their heels. Everything must be executed with the purpose of getting out of trouble quickly and heading up the ice efficiently.

2. Penalty Kill

The Rangers penalty kill has been stellar, allowing just two goals against in the last eight games. That good play will need to continue as the Jets power play has been on fire, scoring nine times in their last eight games.

3. Smart Support

The Jets size may make for difficult times when it comes to the one-on-one battles. Being smart and having support in those small ice encounters will help make up for the lack of size.

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The Garden of Dreams Foundation helps kids facing obstacles in the Tri-State area, including Rangers fan Taylor Ryan who is battling a rare blood disorder called Langerhans cell histiocytosis.