Neither the mathematics nor the calendar lie.
But should the Rangers qualify for the playoffs, they could look at what transpired at the Garden on Monday night as a jumping off point.
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The Rangers wake up Tuesday morning in ninth place in the Eastern Conference with 20 games remaining in the truncated season after Monday night’s 2-1 shootout win over the Hurricanes at the Garden. The win ended a three-game losing streak.
“We just want two points,” Brian Boyle said. “It’s a grind right now. Hopefully we can build off it. [It was a] pretty complete effort, top-to-bottom.”
Rick Nash and J.T. Miller scored in the skills competition while Henrik Lundqvist turned away Jiri Tlusty and Alex Semin hit the crossbar.
The Rangers spoke of desperation and unity before the game, but it was the Hurricanes who started the game strong. Carolina went into the first intermission with a 1-0 lead on Eric Staal’s 14th goal of the season. Staal’s goal, a laser from the right faceoff circle, underscored a period in which the Hurricanes generated 24 shots to the Rangers’ 12.
“I think that first period, when you come off a trip, you hope the skate in the morning gets that out of them but it just didn’t seem to,” head coach John Tortorella said. “We weren’t happy with the way we played in the first.”
It was as flat a start as could be.
But for as lethargic as they were in the opening 20 minutes, the Rangers were that energized in the second period, attempting 33 shots to Carolina’s 19. The offensive pressure paid off when Derek Stepan’s eighth goal of the year tied the game at 1-1 11:06 into the period. The goal also ended a team drought of 129:55 between goals. The last goal the Rangers scored prior to Stepan’s marker came off the stick of Ryan Callahan 1:11 into the second period of last Thursday’s loss to the Jets at the MTS Centre.
“This happens to pretty much [every team],” Boyle said of the drought. “The onus is on everybody. That’s what you [want] to do.”
After Stepan’s goal, the Rangers began to have the better of play in part due to their forecheck. Even though the teams traded chances for the remainder of the game until the shootout, the Rangers were able to consistently generate time and offensive opportunities in the Carolina zone by holding onto the puck. The Rangers finished with a 75-65 advantage in total shots and had six more shots on goal (36-30) than the potent Hurricanes.
“Forechecking was good,” Boyle said. “It was better. We were in their end more.”
While one game is not a panacea, it is not too early to look at the playoffs. It appears teams will need a minimum of 55 points to reach the playoffs this season. The Rangers will need 27 or 25 points in the remaining 20 games to clinch the franchise’s seventh playoff appearance in eight years following the 2004-05 lockout.
Using history as a barometer, the 47 points the Rangers earned in 1995, the last time the NHL had an abbreviated season, was enough to qualify for the playoffs as an eighth seed. The Rangers beat the No. 1 seed Nordiques in six games in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals before being swept by the No. 2 seed Flyers in the second round.
“Two points is all that matters,” said Michael Del Zotto.
“This is a very important win for us,” Marian Gaborik said.
Lundqvist stopped 29-of-30 shots. Dan Ellis made 35 saves for Carolina. Both teams went 0-for-3 on the power play.
Follow Rangers beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.