Rangers look like legitimate threat in East entering playoffs

The Adam Fox dilemma Rangers coach Gerard Gallant must manage

The Magic Number for clinching a playoff berth has been sliced to two points, they hold a six-point edge for home-ice advantage in Round 1, and do you know what? 

That with 10 games to go in the regular season, the Rangers just might be as good as their 46-20-6 record says they are. Might be as good as their record has said they’ve been pretty much all season. And that three-weeks plus away from the tournament, the Blueshirts are a legitimate threat to get out of the East. 

This was an impressive one, Thursday’s 3-0 victory over the Penguins at the Garden that extended the Blueshirts’ lead to six points over the Pittsburgh team that is lurking as the likely opening-round opponent. The chippy way this one ended with enmity and an exchange of angry words spilling past the final buzzer could have been a setup for Game 1. 

The Rangers will take this game every game once the tournament commences. The Penguins were playing without Sidney Crosby, unavailable with a non-COVID illness, but the result was tallied without an asterisk. The Blueshirts suppressed their opponents as they did for much of the four-game season series they took 3-1, winning the last three over the last 13 days by an aggregate score of 11-3. 

And when they did break down, which was not at all often, Igor Shesterkin responded with a pristine effort in recording a 30-shot shutout. If the netminder was not necessarily called upon to be brilliant — there was a point-blank dandy stop on Jake Guentzel with just under three minutes to play in the second and the Blueshirts up by two — the fact that he didn’t allow a marginal one was noteworthy enough. 

Igor Shesterkin makes a save during the Rangers' win over the Penguins.
Igor Shesterkin makes a save during the Rangers’ win over the Penguins.
Jason Szenes