The New York Rangers merely need to go .500 over their final five regular-season games to cement first place in the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference. but with the effectively playoff-type approach they have employed by order of head coach John Tortorella for the better part of this season, they ought to cement that title a little more assertively.
Once in the playoffs, barring an unforeseen injury plague, it is hard not to envision the Blueshirts at least reaching the conference final. In any given matchup between now and the distribution of the Prince of Wales Trophy, the only prospective adversary that could legitimately pose a toss-up to prognosticators is Pittsburgh.
Could the future be much brighter on Broadway? Well, yes.
Even if the relatively young Rangers ultimately need to endure more growing pains this spring, they have a multitude of prospects garnering the best available playoff experience at their respective levels.
As it is in the NHL, the prelude to the postseason is already active one level beneath in the American League. the Connecticut Whale―featuring defensemen Tim Erixon and Pavel Valentenko as well as goaltenders Chad Johnson and Cam Talbot―enter this weekend’s action in a virtual tie for first place in the AHL’s Northeast Division with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.
The Rangers’ and Islanders’ primary affiliates have 77 points apiece with nine games left. And the final outcome of the divisional derby will likely determine home ice in a first-round matchup between the third and sixth seeds in the Eastern Conference.
Meanwhile, of the top 14 ranked players on the Rangers’ hockeysfuture.com page, five are currently engaged in a chase for postseason hardware at either the Junior A, major junior or U.S. college level.
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The no. 1 touted Chris Kreider will pilot his Boston College Eagles down to Tampa next weekend in search of his second NCAA title in three years. next Thursday’s semifinal versus Minnesota will constitute the junior winger’s 14th collegiate game in an NHL venue and his 18th in a major league sports facility.
Already, Kreider has three Beanpot championships, three Hockey East pennants and the aforementioned 2010 NCAA crown on his transcript. He is tied for BC’s team lead this season with 22 goals and five game-winners.
Elsewhere, fellow forward J.T. Miller is averaging a point per game as his Plymouth Whalers enter Game 5 of their Ontario League first-round bout with the Guelph Storm in a 2-2 deadlock. Much like Kreider, Miller, the Rangers’ first-round draft choice last spring, has previously represented Team USA in multiple international events.
Out West, defenseman Dylan McIlrath and the Moose Jaw Warriors can close out the Regina Pats Friday night and advance to the second round of the Western League postseason. the Warriors finished second in their conference behind the top-dog Edmonton Oil Kings.
Those same Oil Kings have already advanced to the second round upon sweeping the Kootenay Ice. Michael St. Croix, the Rangers’ fourth-round draft choice last spring, tallied a 2-3-5 scoring log in those four games, a favorable follow-up on a team-leading 40-65-105 run through the regular season.
Yet another 2011 draftee, Steven Fogarty is honing his game in the British Columbia League while eyeing enrollment at Notre Dame this autumn. Fogarty’s Penticton Vees are in a 1-1 knot entering Friday night’s third game of their best-of-seven semifinal series with the Merritt Centennials.
So far, Fogarty has chipped in four points, including a game-winning goal, through his first eight BCHL playoff tilts.