2006-04-21 / Sports

Dejected Rangers Look For Playoff Salvation In Swamp

By Joe McDonald Sports Columnist

By Joe McDonald
Sports Columnist

NEW YORK - The look on Michael Nylander's face after the Rangers lost to the Ottawa Senators, 5-1, told the whole story.

Dejected and shocked, the Rangers, with the Atlantic Division in their hands only five games ago, slipped away and with the slide, the sixth spot in the playoffs loomed.

As a result of the Blueshirts' loss and the Devils 4-3 win in Montreal, the Rangers will be opening up on in hell on Saturday at the Meadowlands, instead of hosting the playoffs to Madison Square Garden.

"[The Devils] are hot," said Jaromir Jagr. "It's always good to play your best hockey before the playoffs, but it's going to start somewhere and maybe we can do it now."

The Rangers will have to be on the ball as New Jersey ended the season winning 11 straight, while New York lost five straight and vaulted the Devils over both the Blueshirts and the Flyers [who play the Buffalo Sabres in the first round]. And even though they ended the season series 4-3-1, the Devils won three of the last four after Lou Lamoriello took over on December 19.

"I certainly have a very clear sense on having New York teams do well and play playoff hockey," coach Tom Renney said. "I think it's a great matchup, we are playing the hottest team in the National Hockey League. As we work through that series, we have to feel good about ourselves when we get our wins."

Renney added he felt "very comfortable" about playing New Jersey and also said he thinks the Devils should feel the same way about the Blueshirts.

The problem with the matchup, even though Ranger blue will be well represented in New Jersey is the problems the Devils defense.

Instead of loading up on offense, Lamoriello acquired defenseman Brad Lukowich and Ken Klee at the deadline, which solidified the blue line and help Martin Brodeur regain his form.

While that was happening the Rangers took on Sandis Ozolinsh, who had some offensive skills, but made too many defensive mistakes that cost the Blueshirts.

Also it seemed like the Olympics took something out of the team and they haven't recovered since.

"That's a fact," Renney explained. "It takes a psychological toll to play in a tournament like that.

That event is important to European players.

Our guys came back excited, but it didn't turn out that way.

Now we have an opportunity to do that in the playoffs."

Seven current Rangers played in the medal round including Henrik Lundqvist and Jaromir Jagr. The coach didn't make that an excuse, though the Rangers seemed to look like a different team after March 3.

But maybe, playing a team that the Rangers played eight times this season may help them right the ship.

"The way the Devils are playing now they are playing terrific," Renney said. "It's a real good opportunity for us to pay attention on how to turn a season around. You can do that on one game. With that Game One in New Jersey."

For them to do that, the Rangers need to stop sleepwalking though the games.

Over the losing streak, teams would jump to an early lead and by the time the Rangers came to play hockey, the score was too much in the opponents' favor.

Renney said: "The losses make is certainly very clear, we are a team that has to work on being playoff ready and now all we have practices to do it.

We have to separate the last five games of a hockey season and have the opportunity to go and do it in the playoffs."

In picture, New York Rangers (left) Fedor Tyutin, Jason Strudwick, Kevin Weekes, Michael Nylander and Henrik Lundqvist, of Sweden, look on during a post-game ceremony after losing to the Ottawa Senators, 5-1. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

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