The New York Rangers may be a rebuilding team, but their current three-game winning streak amazingly has them thinking 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
One week ago the New York Rangers were a team without an identity, a team looking for April to get here for the sole purpose of witnessing this miserable season come to its bitter conclusion.
Losers of seven games in a row with two top players (Rick Nash and Michael Grabner) traded to other teams, things looked really bad. The feeling got worse in the locker room when word came that captain Ryan McDonagh and winger J.T. Miller were traded last Monday afternoon.
It couldn’t get much darker in Rangerstown.
The team headed to Western Canada for the beginning of a three-game road trip set to kick off in Vancouver. What happened next was as much a surprise to the players as it has been to the fans.
The Rangers started playing as a team. They looked to not have a worry in the world as the kids called up from Hartford and the newly acquired players all brought energy, youth and excitement back to the ice. The Rangers banged out three games in a row and now can see the light at the end of the tunnel. What was once an impossibility is now very much a reality.
This team, against all hockey odds, can actually qualify for the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. It will take some luck and a lot of hard work, but this squad might have the personnel to pull it off.
The Kids are leading the way
The kids referred to are Neal Pionk, John Gilmour and Alexandar Gerogiev. For the lastpast three weeks, these “kids” have brought the excitement and no-worry attitude to the big club. Sure they are making mistakes, but they are also playing some damn good hockey for the Blueshirts.
Neal Pionk has been getting top minutes as he has been paired with Brady Skjei several times since his call-up. In 12 games he has recorded four assists and is averaging 21:22 minutes on ice per game. He is getting to play against the top players on the opposing teams, and even times he makes a bad decision or two, he plays with confidence and poise that lets you know he is ready to stay with the Rangers.
John Gilmour has been playing on the power-play and fitting in where ever the coaching staff puts him. He has registered two goals on the year, one on the power-play, with three points. He is averaging a little of 18 minutes per game on the ice in the 12 games he has appeared in.
Alexandar Georgiev has appeared in three games since he has been called up with a 1-2 record. The kid has seemed calm and collective in goal as he has had to handle defensive errors that have plagued the team all year.
Spooner has one goal and six assists in three games played. Namestnikov scored a goal and had an assist in his Ranger debut in Wednesday night’s win in Vancouver. O’Gara has played a steady defensive game since coming to the Rangers in a trade with Boston.
The Rangers now have 66 points on the season, only five points back of the final wild-card spot. On Feb. 8 when the Rangers announced changes would be coming, the playoffs were an afterthought with the main concern being who would still be a Ranger when the trade deadline came on Feb. 26.
Henrik Lundqvist seems to be playing the game with ease and focus. He was the winning goalie in Vancouver and Calgary last week as he made 50 saves in both games.
Other players who survived the trades of 2018 have stepped up as of late. Kevin Hayes scored three goals during the three-game road trip. Mika Zibanejad had two goals in the three-game trip and Pavel Buchnevich and Chris Kreider each had a goal over the three games. The Kreider, Zibanejad, Buchnevich line has found the magic it had earlier in the season.
“I don’t think anyone expected that,” he went on to say, “This is a group that wants to do it and wants to prove people wrong,” said Zibanejad, who had a power-play goal and an assist after recording just four points, all goals, in his previous 16 games. “Just because they’ve I guess cleaned out our roster doesn’t mean we’re gonna stop playing.”
Chris Kreider explained that “Guys are playing for each other,” after the win over Edmonton on Saturday, per the official Rangers Twitter account.
— New York Rangers (@NYRangers) March 4, 2018
— New York Rangers (@NYRangers) March 4, 2018
Marc Staal said, “We’re starting to have some fun and relax a little bit.”
Sixteen games remain in the season. The team still has a lot to play for as the end of the season approaches. The playoffs are within reach and everyone recognizes that anything can happen.
How did this even happen? Could it be the team that was supposed to be the sellers actually were the buyers? Let’s not forget, in the distance are Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil waiting to take their shot at Rangerstown.
Perhaps Madison Square Garden will be rocking a month-and-change from now after all.