Rangers Look To Play Spoiler Role

The Rangers will take on the Columbus Blue Jackets tonight at Madison Square Garden.

The game is the fourth and final match of the regular season between the Metro Division opponents. Both teams have prevailed on home ice in their three previous meetings and the Blueshirts will look to keep that streak alive this evening. The Blue Jackets are in a battle for a playoff position in the East. Presently riding an eight-game unbeaten streak, they are tied for third in the Metro with Philadelphia, having gained 85 points on the season.

[Watch Rangers-Blue Jackets Tonight on MSG & MSG GO. Download the app for free.]

It looks like the final three playoff spots will be a battle between the Blue Jackets, Devils, Flyers and Panthers. It should be a pretty exciting race, one of which, despite being on the outside looking in, the Rangers will play a role. The Blueshirts look to be a spoiler as they have a game left against both Columbus and New Jersey and two against the Flyers. I would look for the Rangers to continue to play the innocent, competitive game that has been their trademark in recent outings. It sure would be something if that last game of the regular season in Philly were pivotal for the Flyers and their playoff hopes.

The line of Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad and Jesper Fast has been very good of late. Against the Penguins, Kreider had a career-high four-point night and was dominant. The powerful winger has admitted to having a greater appreciation of what a privilege it is to play in the NHL since returning from the blood clotting issue that caused him the miss 24 games. Good for the Rangers, better on him.

Zibanejad has scored two goals in each of the past two games and has eight points in his last four games. While the points are certainly important, Mika has played with a three-zone assertiveness that you need from a top center. Fast is on a five-game point streak and is the one guy that, wherever he gets slotted in the lineup, his linemates play better. He rarely gets himself into trouble with or without the puck and his hard, smart play forces his mates to play equally hard and smart. He would get my vote for the Players’ Player Award. Hands down.

Another guy that deserves some recognition for his fine play of late is Marc Staal. The second most-tenured Ranger on the roster behind Henrik Lundqvist, Staal, with his 751 games played in a Blueshirts uniform, continues to prove that in the “run and gun” era you still have to have guys that know how to defend. It was challenging to be one of the last guys standing after the trade deadline but he has embraced his role as a mentor to this young blueline group very well. And to boot, he is playing his best hockey of the season. Another good for the Rangers, better on him.

[Read: Getting to Know Neal Pionk]

 3 KEYS

1. 60 Minutes

The Rangers are 5-2-2 in the past nine games and there have been numerous times where a bit of a hole has been dug early. Whether they are too young to know any better, or whether many are playing for Rangers security down the road, the “never roll over” attitude by playing to the final buzzer has been impressive.

2. Battle Level

While they may not quite as physical as in the past, the Blue Jackets still come with a chip-on-the-shoulder attitude that forces the opponent to be ready to battle. The small one-on-one battles will need to be paid strict attention to.

3. Bobrovsky-Lundqvist

Lundqivst will be making his first start in three games while Sergei Bobrovsky, who was the backup in last night’s Blue Jacket OT win in Boston, gets the nod for Columbus. Bobrovsky has posted Vezina-worthy numbers on the season and The King is well, The King. Makes for a terrific matchup.

[Watch Rangers-Blue Jackets Tonight on MSG & MSG GO. Download the app for free.]

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.