It seems as if the truncated 2013 regular season has gone by in a blink of the eye. But the 48-game campaign does indeed come to an end for the Rangers (25-18-4, 54 pts) Saturday afternoon when the Blueshirts host the New Jersey Devils (19-18-10, 48 pts) in a matinee at Madison Square Garden. Fortunately for the Rangers Saturday does not mark the end of their season, and instead it will be a jumping off point to the playoffs which begin next week. That much was guaranteed with Thursday night's dramatic 4-3 come-from-behind overtime win in Carolina, in which the Rangers clinched a berth to their third straight post-season appearance, and seventh in the past eight years.
Had they not come away with a fairly miraculous late third period goal by Brad Richards, or Ryan Callahan's subsequent game-winner 2:55 into overtime, the Rangers could have very well been playing for their playoff lives against an arch rival bent on revenge after the Rangers eliminated them from playoff contention with a 4-1 win at The Garden---and with their fans serenading the Devils with chants of "Season's Over!" Fortunately the Rangers avoided that precarious predicament and will instead be playing for playoff positioning, and not a playoff berth, on Saturday afternoon.
There are a myriad of options of which seed the Rangers will be in the Eastern Conference playoffs, as well as who the Blueshirts will face in the first round. However the players and their coach John Tortorella bot were candid on Friday, stating that the goal is to finish as high in then standings as possible, and to finish with a strong effort in game No. 48 Saturday against the Devils. After that they will worry about the post-season.
The Rangers hit Saturday on a roll, having won four of their last five games, and six of their last eight. In the month of April the Rangers have posted a 9-3-1 record, quite an impressive spring to the wire. Included in that mix was Sunday's 4-1 dismantling of New Jersey, a game that saw Callahan score twice and Henrik Lundqvist make 26 saves.
Though the conventional wisdom might be to start Martin Biron in goal on Saturady now that the Rangers have clinched, both Tortorella and Lundqvist have held out the possibility that Henrik might start for the 14th consecutive game. Either way, Tortorella has not committed publicly as to which goalie will start against New Jersey. The Devils, though, announced on Friday that veteran backup Johan Hedberg will start their last game of the season and that Martin Brodeur---who allowed four goals on 22 shots last Sunday---will not.
As for the rest of the Rangers lineup, there are questions marks, for sure. Ryane Clowe suffered an unspecified injury Thursday and did not practice Friday. Brian Boyle has missed five straight games with an undisclosed injury, and has not yet returned to practice. Arron Asham missed Thursday's game and Friday's practice to be with his wife who gave birth early Friday. Ans Derek Dorsett and Marc Staal both continue to practice and work their ways back from injuries. Add to the mix the recall of Kris Newbury from the Whale, and there are several questions to be answered about the Blueshirt lineup Saturday.
Following the game the Rangers will present "Shirts off our Backs" to lucky fans on the ice, and then it will be time for a run at the 2013 Stanley Cup.
Where do you think the Rangers will finish in the standings, and who do you think they will face in the opening round of the playoffs? Let us know below.