Extending their win streak to five, the New York Rangers won 3-1 over division-rival Philadelphia Flyers in their push for home-ice. The Rangers have two fewer games left to play than the Flyers, however, with their next three opponents being a struggling Calgary Flames, an abysmal Edmonton Oilers and a dwindling Vancouver Canucks team, the Rangers could rattle off three more in a row and create some much-needed space between them and the Flyers before season’s end. With the help of red-hot defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who has labored his way in to Norris Trophy talks, the Rangers are pushing for a home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs over the Philadelphia Flyers.
The catalyst for the recent success of the New York Rangers could be attributed to the most recent success of Ryan McDonagh. McDonagh has seven points during this five game win-streak, including a much-needed three points in an overtime win against the Phoenix Coyotes. Before this streak, McDonagh has always been known as a gritty defensive-minded defenseman, but as the Rangers finally appear to be buying into coach Alain Vigneault’s offensive-minded system, McDonagh’s offensive game has blossomed. The 24-year-old defenseman is ranked fifth among defensemen in goals scored (14) this season, 11th in total points (43) for defensemen this season, and has the most goals for a New York Rangers defenseman since the cherished Brian Leetch who had 21 goals in the 2000-01 season. Unfortunately for McDonagh, the Norris has gone to more “offensive” defensemen as of lately and he is well behind defensemen points leader(s) Erik Karlsson (OTT) who has 69 points and Duncan Keith (CHI) who has 57. Although McDonagh would love to have the Norris in his possession, the greater goal of lifting the Cup is still of utmost importance.
Along with McDonagh continuing his case for Norris Trophy consideration, the remaining schedule looks to be in favor of him and the Rangers moving forward in their push for a first-round home-ice advantage. With eight games left to play, the Rangers face only three teams that boast a winning record (Vancouver, Colorado, Montreal) and only two of them are even in playoff contention (Colorado, Montreal). If New York takes care of business against the teams they should win against, the Rangers could be riding an 11-2 record going into the playoffs. Compare their schedule to the remaining Philadelphia Flyers schedule and there is a completely different story. The Flyers have 10 games left to play and of those 10 games, seven of them have winning records and six of them are in playoff contention. The Flyers have a two more games to play than New York, but they have a murderous row to play in the next five. In the next five games, the Flyers face a struggling Toronto team that is still fighting for playoff contention, the Eastern Conference leading Boston Bruins (twice), the Western Conference leading St. Louis Blues, and a Columbus Blue Jackets team that is playing well and fighting for the playoffs.
With this remaining schedule in mind, home-ice could be a detrimental force behind this opening series and the Rangers would love to get the advantage over their rival Philadelphia Flyers in the first round considering their respective records this season against each other. The Flyers have posted a 2-0 record at home against the Rangers and have outscored them 6-3 in those games. The Rangers at home have also posted a 2-0 record against the Flyers and have an even more impressive 8-2 scoring advantage in those games.
With a red-hot New York Rangers team, backed by a packed Madison Square Garden and paired with a wealth of experience between the pipes and with their head coach, the Rangers could be very dangerous team at home not just in the first round, but through the entire playoffs. McDonagh may not end up receiving the Norris Trophy due to his offensive numbers throughout the whole season, but this push for home ice by the New York Rangers could not have been accomplished without his offensive surge of lately. The Norris Trophy is a terrific accomplishment for any defenseman to post on his resume, but ask McDonagh if he would rather lift Lord Stanley instead and there’s a chance the answer may come in the form of a flying puck in the ear.
Commentary by Ryne Vyles