Rangers Have to Keep Champagne on Ice

No letting up with conference title still in balance

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    The fight goes on a little longer for the Rangers.

    It would have been a blessedly easy week if the Rangers could have found a way to just send Sunday night's game with the Bruins to overtime. 

    They didn't need to win, not after the Flyers beat the Penguins 6-4 on Sunday afternoon in a game that makes you wonder how bloody their first-round playoff series will be, because simply picking up a point for losing in overtime or a shootout would have clinched the Eastern Conference title for them.

    Tim Thomas was able to put his whines about the Garden lighting to the side and stop all 19 Rangers shots, though, and the result was a 2-1 loss that left the magic number at one.

    The slim margin was a result of the Rangers making the one killer mistake -- Dan Girardi's giveaway on the penalty kill led to an easy Bruins goal -- on a night when that was all it took. A tough way to lose, but a timely reminder of the need to avoid such miscues come the postseason.

    Getting that point would have meant a chance to get some people rested and ready for playoff action over the final three games, but it's not all that surprising that things didn't break that way for the Rangers.

    Nothing's come easy for them this entire season, so it makes sense that they would have to grind things out a little longer before they put the final touches on a banner for the MSG rafters.

    The results of the weekend all but guaranteed that the banner is coming, though. Friday night's 4-1 laugher over the Canadiens and Sunday's Penguins loss mean that the desired result is coming unless the Rangers lose three straight in regulation while Pittsburgh avoids losses each time out.

    It's possible, of course, but it's not all that likely given the way things have played out this season. The flip side of the fact that the Rangers don't make much easy for themselves is the fact that they don't make things easy for anybody else either.

    Even with a tricky schedule that involves games against the Flyers, Penguins and a Capitals team that could be fighting for its playoff life in the finale, the Rangers aren't likely to break down enough to go on their first four-game regulation losing streak of the entire season. You can tear your hair out about the season remaining in doubt, but things don't really look all that bad.

    You've got Marian Gaborik scoring his 40th goal, the second time he's done that in three Rangers seasons that have made his signing look like one of the wiser moves the franchise has ever made. And you've got Henrik Lundqvist playing at a high level again after a few weeks where he wasn't quite the impregnable wall that we've come to take for granted this year.

    You want your best players playing their best at this point in the proceedings and the Rangers certainly have that. And soon they'll have the Eastern Conference title to call their own as well.

    Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.