The Rangers scored an impressive 7-3 victory over the Devils yesterday in the first of two games they'll play in the big ballpark in the Bronx, but the win serves to illuminate an ongoing issue for the Blueshirts: Winning–or more specifically their failure to win–within their own division.
The Stadium Series victory improves the Rangers record within the Metropolitan Division–commonly considered one of, if not the, weakest division in the league–to 8-9-3. Of the 8 in the division, the Blueshirts are the only team other than the Islanders to be below .500 in divisional matchups.
Here lies the problem: Other than Pittsburgh, who with 74 points would need a collapse of epic proportions to lose the divisions top spot, no one team in the Metropolitan has distinguished themselves. As a result, claiming one of the divisions two remaining automatic playoff bids remains the Rangers safest, and most likely, path to the postseason.
The bottom 7 teams in the division are separated by just 9 points, from the Blueshirts at 59, to the Islanders brining up the rear with 50. With the division race so tight, each and every one of the Rangers 10 remaining divisional matchups is essentially a money ball game–double the importance in the standings.
Two are on the immediate horizon: Wednesday outdoors against the Isles, and Friday back at the Garden for a rematch–the final meeting between the Rangers and Islanders in the regular season. With wins in both games, the Blueshirts could put the future Brooklynites in a hole it would be nearly impossible to climb out of, and send GM Garth Snow into fire sale mode.
Needless to say, the Islanders–who have been frantically trying to climb out of the chasm they dug themselves with a poor start–view the back-to-back in another light.
The Rangers quest to make the playoffs may well come down to how they fair in their remaining 10 matchups with their historically mediocre Metropolitan brethren. Inch their record above .500, and the Blueshirts should be fine, but if they flirt with, or dip below, that line, a race that already seems destined to go down to the wire could be much more interesting than the Rangers ideally want.
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