“This is really a huge test for us,” said Rangers winger Brendan Shanahan. The Rangers, who sit seventh in the Eastern Conference with 83 points, play Saturday at Boston, Sunday at Long Island, Tuesday at Montreal and next Saturday at Philadelphia.
The Islanders (81 points) and Canadiens (82 points) are also among the six clubs battling for the last three playoff spots in the East, making the head-to-head matchups with them on this trip more crucial.
And one can bet the Toronto Maple Leafs (80 points before Friday night), Tampa Bay Lightning (86 points) and Carolina Hurricanes (82 points) will be hoping the Rangers don’t go to overtime in those games.
“The three-point games makes it even more interesting, it throws more variables into the mix,” said Shanahan. “You see two teams that you’re competing with playing each other, you’re upset one’s going to win and but happy one’s going to lose and then they get into overtime.
“You just can’t get any separation. One thing it’s done, the three-point games, is allow more teams in the race, which is a good thing.”
For Shanahan, pressure hockey in March is a different feeling than what he’s used to after a decade in Detroit where this time of year was about rest before the playoffs because the Red Wings already assured of a playoff berth.
“Not that we didn’t have fun in Detroit, because we did, but this is just different,” said Shanahan. “Here, every win is like a championship, with the excitement and happiness of the players. It’s a different approach. We’d like to be sitting there with 100 points like the Detroit Red Wings, but we’re not. We’re in a dog fight.
“Every game for the last month has been our most important game of the season and that’s just not going to end. For me it’s just new, and that’s what makes it interesting.”
And if the Rangers get in, they’ve got as good a shot as anyone. That’s the mantra every team has after watching No. 8 Edmonton blow through the Western Conference all the way to the Stanley Cup final last spring.
“I think teams that are scratching and clawing to just make the playoffs are every bit as dangerous as the teams that win the Presidents’ Trophy,” said Shanahan. “That first round especially, anything can happen. I think all teams know that. That’s why these races are so different.”
Shanahan, meanwhile, returned to the lineup Wednesday after missing a month with a severe concussion.
“I was pretty pleased with it and wasn’t sure how it was going to go,” he said. “On a personal level, I’m trying to get my own game back and get my feel back and get my timing.”