The New York Rangers can clinch a spot in the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs with a win tonight as Eric Staal makes his return to Raleigh.
New York Rangers (43-24-9)
Carolina Hurricanes (33-28-16)
NHL, Today, 7:00 PM on NHLN-US, MSG Full Preview
PNC Arena, Raleigh, NC
By Chris Wengert
It’s clinch day for the New York Rangers, that is, as long as they beat the lowly Carolina Hurricanes.
Any type of win, whether it be in regulation or overtime, will guarantee Rangers fans stress, anxiety, frustration, insomnia, and a trip to the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Rangers have been playing some quality hockey lately and there is no reason why they shouldn’t be able to skate away with a win tonight.
That is of course, assuming that the Rangers continue to protect the puck, shot often, protect Henrik Lundqvist, and keep that power play smoking hot.
Outside of clinching a possible playoff berth, the big news of the evening will undoubtedly be Eric Staal’s return to PNC Arena.
Staal was a beloved player in Raleigh, but there certainly will be mixed emotions when he is announced to the crowd.
The former Carolina star waived his no trade clause so that he could be traded to New York, and that move has surely ruffled some Carolina feathers.
While not all Carolina fans will be thrilled to see Staal skate in a blue sweater, the Rangers organization has gone above and beyond to be accommodating to the former Hurricane.
In a nice gesture by Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton, Staal was allowed to travel to Raleigh early so that he could spend some time with his family.
AV says it was GM Jeff Gorton’s idea to let Eric Staal return to Raleigh on Monday to be with family. Hadn’t seen wife/3 sons in a month.
— Andrew Gross (@AGrossRecord) March 30, 2016
That is a classy move by Gorton.
The Eric Staal trade was basically Carolina’s equivalent to waving the white flag on the 2016 season, and their recent play hasn’t been any more encouraging.
The Hurricanes enter tonight’s contest having lost seven of their last nine games. Their only wins have come against the Columbus Blue Jackets and the New Jersey Devils, neither of which are going to make the playoffs.
Double-play: I’m en route to Raleigh…Expecting same lines, stay tuned for AV briefing later https://t.co/UJKwUXhin5
— Steve Zipay (@stevezipay) March 30, 2016
Rangers’ Keys To Victory
Don’t Play Down To The Competition
A common theme that has plagued the Rangers this season has their inconsistent play, especially against weaker teams.
For whatever reason, whether it be a lack of mental preparation or effort, the Rangers often mirror the play of weaker teams,
But that is why Saturday’s game against the Montreal Canadiens was so encouraging, because the Rangers kept their foot on the gas throughout the entire game.
Even as the third period came to a close the Rangers were still forechecking hard, and this philosophy needs to remain intact against a defeated Carolina team that most likely has one foot out of the door.
Clean Breakout Passes
A clean breakout pass not only promotes the Rangers’ speed, but it will also take away scoring chances from Carolina defenseman Justin Faulk.
Faulk is fifth on the team in scoring having tallied 15 goals this season, and a sloppy Rangers’ breakout would most likely pad these stats.
An effective breakout starts with a Rangers defense that has improved their puck movement over the past couple of weeks. Keith Yandle hasn’t caused turnovers with his dangerous cross-ice passes and Marc Staal has been making smarter decisions with the puck.
Now it’s all about being consistent.
Eric Staal’s return will be an emotional affair for sure, but the now Rangers forward will need to keep his eye on the prize.
And that goes for the rest of the Rangers roster as well, because tonight’s game could easily become ugly if the Blueshirts take undisciplined penalties.
While Rick Nash‘s return has improved the penalty kill the Rangers won’t want to give the unit any more practice than they need to.
Clinching a playoff spot should be priority number one tonight and if a player’s pride needs to take a backseat to finish the job, so be it.