We are entering crunch time in this wacky NHL season, and the Eastern Conference playoff race is getting interesting on the bubble. Patrick and I debate whether the Rangers, Hurricanes or Sabres will be the one to get left out of the top eight in the East (not to ignore Toronto).
New York Rangers By Ryan Porth
Despite last night’s win in Ottawa, John Tortorella’s club is going in the wrong direction at the wrong time. Injuries are starting to catch up with the hard-working Rangers, who are a dismal 5-11-3 in their last 19 games. A playoff berth now looks to be very much up in the air.
The concussion to Marian Gaborik has hurt the offense, which is thin to begin with. Martin Biron suffered a broken collarbone on deadline day, causing the team to go with an AHL-caliber ‘tender as Henrik Lundqvist’s backup. Also, Marc Staal is a bit banged up and Chris Drury and Alex Frolov aren’t expected to return this year.
With all of these injuries, the Blueshirts cannot afford to see anymore key players go down.
Speaking of Lundqvist; he hasn’t exactly been himself in this second half. He’s been inconsistent since Jan. 20, going 6-9-1 with a 2.60 goals-against and .902 save percentage. With Tortorella having to lean on Lundqvist the rest of the way, the Swede has to be sharper and start stealing wins like he’s been known to do in the past.
Two forwards that haven’t been the same in the last month or two, production wise, are Brandon Dubinsky and Brian Boyle. Dubinsky, who leads the team with 43 points, is currently on an eight-game pointless drought. Boyle leads the Rangers in goals with 20, but has just two since the All-Star break. Tortorella needs both guys to step up offensively.
When you look at the schedule, the Rangers do not have an overly tough slate between now and Game 82. However, they are running out of games. Carolina has a game in hand, Toronto has two, and Buffalo has four. They play Philadelphia twice (who has had their number), along with road tilts in Pittsburgh, Boston and San Jose.
As someone who picked the Rangers before the season to finish closer to the conference cellar than the playoffs, I feel this team has overachieved up to this point. For the second straight year, the Rangers find themselves on the bubble down the stretch; and once again, I believe the bounces will not go their way.
Buffalo Sabres By Patrick Hoffman
When it comes to the NHL, there is nothing more exciting than watching a team battle to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs. With that said, there is nothing more disheartening than watching a team battle to make the playoffs only to fall short at the end of the season.
Unfortunately, it looks like it could be that way for the Buffalo Sabres come April. The Sabres are currently ninth place in the Eastern Conference, three points behind the eighth-place Carolina. While it is only three points, there is a chance that the Sabres will fall short for a few reasons:
- Lack of scoring: It is always tough to rely on one player to do a majority of the scoring and right now, the Sabres are doing just that with Thomas Vanek. In 63 games, Vanek has 52 points (23 goals and 29 assists) but others around him have not performed as admirably or nearly consistent enough. When it comes to playoff hockey, everyone needs to step up offensively; without Derek Roy in the lineup, it may be tough for the Sabres to do just that.
- A tired Ryan Miller: While Ryan Miller would never admit it, he may just be too tired at the end of the season to help get this team into the playoffs. While he is a great goaltender and is doing everything he can to get his team to the tournament, asking him to play in upwards of 70 games and face close to over 30 shots a night may be pushing it.
- The teams currently in front of them: While the Rangers are currently struggling, they could just as easily be way ahead of the Sabres. The Blueshirts have been involved in a lot of low-scoring games and with a bounce here or there, could have just as easily come out of more games with two points. Also, Carolina is playing good hockey and won their head-to-head matchup on Thursday.
While it is easy to admire just how far the Sabres have come in the past few months, it would be tough to bet on them getting into the playoffs because of what they would have to accomplish in order to ultimately get there.
Our podcast 'RLD Hockey Talk' is LIVE every Wednesday afternoon at 1:00 ET/Noon CT. Some of our notable guests in past episodes have been Dustin Brown, Doc Emrick, John Buccigross, Dave Strader, E.J. Hradek, Elliotte Friedman and Jay Grossman.