The Rangers big win against the Hurricanes at the Garden on Tuesday night was a nice beginning to their sprint for the playoffs. Their hot start has buoyed them through a long uneven patch, but they'll need to do more to gain a spot among the Eastern Conference elite. Whether they can do that will be reliant on the answers to the three questions listed below.
1. What happened to Nikolai Zherdev? Zherdev has only 10 points since December 12th and hasn't scored a goal since December 20th. That's bad news since the Rangers are 9-2 in games in which Zherdev scores a goal, and because the team is short on offensive firepower in the first place. His offensive play is getting more tentative as the scoreless drought continues and it's crucial that Tom Renney finds a way to get him back on track.
2. Is Henrik Lundqvist getting enough rest? There's no denying King Henrik's place among the best goaltenders in the NHL, but he's had some rough patches this season, including a three-game stretch in late December when he allowed 13 goals. Obviously other factors contribute to the goals allowed, but the Rangers are going to have to ride Lundqvist, who has played in 40 of 48 games thus far, come playoff time if they have to go anywhere. Steve Valiquette has done well when given the opportunity, he should get more of them to ensure Lundqvist is at his best when it matters the most.
3. Who can Glen Sather get in a trade? The biggest problem with the Rangers this season is that they haven't replaced Jaromir Jagr's presence in the offensive end. Sather's off-season signings may make it difficult for the team to get much better in the trade market, however. Compounding the problem is that two of those signings, defensemen Wade Redden and Dmitri Kalinin, have been two of the team's most disappointing players. The need for scoring trumps the need for another defenseman, but Sather will have to get creative in order to bolster his roster for the stretch run.