The New York Rangers have nothing to play for.
Their playoff spot and seeding are now final: the team will play in the Metropolitan division's second seed. While their opponent isn't yet guaranteed, the Rangers can't move up or down, and have the confidence of home-ice advantage for at least the first round.
With that victory comes the spoils. The Rangers have the option rest their star players, and can spend tonight's game tuning up without the pressure of pushing for those final points. Early reports out of New York indicate that the Rangers are prepared to do just that - goaltender Henrik Lundqvist and defenseman Ryan McDonagh are among those players who'll like take the night off.
The Rangers are a talented, well-coached team, and with the playoffs looming, are enjoying the opportunity to manage tonight's game to their liking.
The Montreal Canadiens should be in the same position. For the third straight game, the Canadiens will look for two points and the chance to solidify home-ice in their own division. Against the undermanned Chicago Blackhawks, the Habs rested key members of their lineup, and emerged with only single point after a final minute breakdown gave way to an overtime loss. While resting their star goalie and overworked defenseman is excusable, confusing decision-making with the players that were dressed on Wednesday left the Habs in a compromising, and ultimately fatal, position.
Any errors made against Chicago were exacerbated against New York. Despite the fine performance of Nathan Beaulieu against the 'hawks, Douglas Murray was quickly ushered past the velvet rope and back into the lineup at the conclusion of his suspension. Despite failing to produce even an illusion of productivity for months now, George Parros was also offered a spot on the fourth line. As Andrew detailed yesterday, the Canadiens have the resources to compete, but instead chose to undercut themselves to disadvantageous results.
By their own hands, the Habs have tossed away three available points in the last four days, which coincidentally, is exactly the total they need to guarantee that they won't have to leave Montreal before the playoffs start. Instead, they'll aim for two more tonight, hoping that a 100 point total is enough to maintain their cushion over the Tampa Bay Lightning. Tonight, they'll have to find a way to accomplish their goal against a team that's already accomplished theirs.
Tale of the Tape
Unfortunately, it appears that the prolonging of Montreal's playoff chase hasn't imparted any important lessons. Left with a hole to fill in their forward corps, the Canadiens reached into their talent pool and pulled out 27-year-old Michael Blunden. By now, Blunden is a veteran of the Habs' system, but has never achieved any significant traction in the NHL. Long regarded as a barometer of prospect legitimacy, if the Blunden line has been escalated to the NHL level, it leaves one to wonder what the what opinion Canadiens management holds of prospects like Christian Thomas and Louis Leblanc.
Of course, Blunden has made an impact against the Rangers in the past, finding himself in the middle of the biggest controversy between the two teams in the last few years.
Of course, maybe bringing up Blunden is motivated by risk aversion, because no matter what, Blunden solves at least one problem this evening. Maybe, for one of only a few times this season, the Habs and their fans won't have to worry about Parros and Murray being the worst Canadiens on the ice.