Hartnett: Rangers Can't Allow Valuable Points To Slip Away


Lately, a string of tough opponents and injuries have tested the Rangers’ playoff hopes. After falling short in a late comeback attempt against the rival Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday, an even more difficult task awaited the Rangers when they returned home to face the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues on Tuesday.

St. Louis entered Madison Square Garden atop the Western Conference standings and rolling on a seven-game win streak. It was a frustrating night for the hosts in a game that featured few genuine scoring chances and abysmal officiating.

The big-bodied Blues exerted their physical dominance to keep the Rangers at bay and were boosted by the men in stripes seemingly swallowing their whistles and letting every infraction, every trip and every hold go un-penalized.

After Mika Zibanejad scored the Rangers’ only goal of the contest at 12:26 of the first period, it felt like the ice was narrowing. With little room to maneuver against a Blues team that excels at taking away time and space – and the refs allowing the visitors to yank the Rangers’ jerseys all night, it was never going to go the Blueshirts’ way.

Alexandar Georgiev getting fooled by Brayden Schenn's wraparound on the game-winning goal epitomized a night that The Garden faithful would like to soon forget. Jaden Schwartz later cashed in an empty net goal, as the Blues sealed a 3-1 victory to extend their winning streak to eight.

Rangers goalie Alexandar Georgiev makes a save against the Pittsburgh Penguins on March 14, 2018, at Madison Square Garden.

The shorthanded Rangers have now slumped to three straight defeats and are feeling the effect of missing key players at a crucial point of the season. There’s a big difference between Chris Kreider skating on the left side of Zibanejad and Phillip Di Giuseppe occupying that role as a stand in.

All teams are eventually challenged by injuries and adversity. No team skates through an 82-game season without their resiliency being tested.

Though the Rangers have outshone the preseason predictions of many, they’re in a tough spot with Kreider expected to miss the coming weeks with a fractured foot and no. 1 goaltender Igor Shesterkin recovering from a broken rib sustained in a car accident.

The Rangers are very much alive in the playoff race – but they cannot allow valuable points to keep slipping away. Having recorded 74 points through 66 games, the Blueshirts only trail the Columbus Blue Jackets (78 points, 67 games played) for the second wild card by four points.

This is the time of year when every point means more. The Rangers will have to be at their very best when they host the Washington Capitals on Thursday.

Follow Sean on Twitter: @HartnettHockey