With One Week Left, Blueshirts Control Their Destiny
By Joe McDonald Sports Columnist
It couldn't last forever.
After a week where goalie Henrik Lundqvist was almost perfect and earned the NHL's First Star Honors, the Ranger netminder hit a roadblock in Montreal. The Canadiens scored four goals against him in less than two periods and the Rangers went onto to lose 6-4.
"It was like a huge wave," said Jaromir Jagr to reporters. "In the second period, they just jumped. They had nothing to lose."
"It was so quick, and when they got the first goal and the fans were behind them, they had momentum. We had some chances, but our only goals came from the point."
For Lundqvist, it was the first time he gave up more than three goals in 22 games. And, for the Rangers, it's back to the drawing board for a team desperately trying to hold onto their one-point lead for the sixth playoff spot.
Yet, with the Rangers playing so many meaningful and pressure filled games this past month, the Rangers may be starting to get tired.
"I think it's a team that's a little out of gas right now, quite honestly," said head coach Tom Renney to reporters.
"There's physical fatigue and mental fatigue and a combination of both. You know, we've had our foot on the gas for a long period of time here now. We escaped a couple of games with great penalty killing and great goaltending in our next two."
At least the Rangers don't return to action until Saturday in Philadelphia, where they control their own destiny in the final week of the season.
With a winnable match against the Flyers, who are just playing out the schedule to finish a losing campaign, they can get right back up on the horse.
Then, the playoffs essentially begin the next night. With Toronto at the Garden, the Blueshirts have a chance to end the Leafs' fragile playoff hopes.
On Tuesday they go to the Island for the last match of the season against their rivals. Rick DiPietro status is up in the air and without the 15-year contract man, the Isles' chances become rather slim.
And finally, Montreal comes to the Garden on next Thursday for a rematch of Tuesday's match. The Rangers will be fired up for that one as the Habs took it too them.
Finally, the Rangers end the regular season in Pittsburgh on Apr. 7. At that time, if the Rangers can take six out of a possible eight points in the previous four, there should be no worries about the Pens.
But the Blueshirts need to hope Tuesday's performance from Lundqvist was an aberration. The man they call "The King" is the reason why the Rangers are in sixth place. They need him to get back in form if they have any hope for the playoffs.
"I think we take it as a bit of a break that all the teams that are competing with us lost tonight," said Brendan Shanahan to reporters.
"Certainly the work we've done in the last month has pushed us to a position where we're still in the driver's seat. We just have to go out in our next game and correct a lot of the things that we did wrong tonight and get a win."
With five games left, the race for the playoffs has started already on Broadway.