One of the truisms about team sports is that executives, coaches and players try not to give an opponent additional motivation.
Following the Rangers' completion of a wire-to-wire rout of the Buffalo Sabres, 6-1, Saturday night, AlainVigneault attempted to tell the assembled media in the press conference room on the fifth floor of Madison Square Garden that the laugher was as arduous as the heavyweight dates that await his team this week.
"We have a real challenging road trip," Vigneault said. "We believe all games in this league are challenging. There are no easy games."
Of course, there are games and then there are GAMES. And these Rangers, winners of 10-of-11 and 12-of-15 dating back to Nov. 28, are about to embark on a West Coast swing in which they will encounter the Anaheim Ducks, San Jose Sharks and the reigning, defending, undisputed Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings.
Anaheim's 56 points is the most in the Western Conference. The Kings are third in the Pacific Division with 47 points, and San Jose holds the second Wild Card slot in the West.
The Kings' 111 goals are tied with the Rangers for eighth most in the league. Anaheim and San Jose have a plus-four and plus-three goal differentials, respectively. A further examination reveals Los Angeles and Chicago have the NHL's best Corsipercentage at 54.7 percent. San Jose is eighth in that category with a 51.2 percent ranking, while Anaheim's 50.8 percent is 11th in the league.
"It's going to be a big for our team to see where we're at," Derick Brassard said.
So, yeah, with all due respect to the Sabres, the upcoming road trip is laden withGAMES.
"It's going to be a great test for us," Henrik Lundqvist said of the California trip after the 24-save effort against a Sabres squad furiously engaged in the Connor McDavid Sweepstakes. "We're doing a lot of good things - defensively, offensively, special teams - and it's paying off in wins, in scoring.
"Everybody (feels) like we're doing the little things right and we're getting rewarded in goals and points and wins."
Indeed, the Rangers have outscored opponents 53-28 in this recent hot stretch, and have accumulated 24 out of a possible 30 points. Yet for all of their success and results, the Rangers hold a tenuous one-point lead over Washington for the third Metropolitan Division playoff spot. The Rangers beat the Capitals in the first head-up meeting of the season, 4-2 on Dec. 23 at the Garden. The teams will see each other three more times in March and April, and the Rangers hold a game in hand.
"You would think we would have separated ourselves a little bit in the standings in this streak," Lundqvist said. "But teams around us are winning."
Essentially, the playoff race has begun. No additional motivation needed.