-- Have the New York Rangers
finally turned the corner?
It's possible you've had that thought on more than one occasion this season if you follow the Rangers, a team that's had more ups and downs than a manic depressive on a trampoline.
But a 3-1 win Sunday against the Philadelphia Flyers
moved the Rangers to within one point of the eighth-place Boston Bruins
, a spot in the standings that was starting to look unattainable after they dropped three-straight and fell five points back of the final playoff spot in the East.
On Sunday, the Rangers showed fight and determination against a team that isn't short on either. The problem that has plagued the Rangers all season has been maintaining that level of play for extended periods of time and not slipping into bad habits.
Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist
knows it, and with a big stretch of games coming up, he's sticking by the tried-and-true cliché of taking it one game a time.
"Every year is a little different, but I think it is good to know we can do it," he said about making the Stanley Cup Playoffs for a fifth-consecutive season. "We have been in the same position before. Like I said, don't look too far ahead. Don't start thinking we have to win 10 out of 13 or something; we just have to win the next game."
And that next game is a crucial one, a contest at home against the Montreal Canadiens
, who, just like the Flyers, are a team the Rangers are chasing in the standings. Focus will be important, because after hosting the Canadiens on Tuesday and the St. Louis Blues
on Thursday, a Sunday afternoon showdown with the Bruins awaits.
"I think the key for us is not to look too far ahead," Lundqvist said. "We know we have to win a lot of games, but we have to break it down one game at a time."
If the Rangers can match the intensity they showed Sunday against the Flyers, they shouldn't have a problem.
But then again, that has been the Rangers' problem all along this season -- consistency.
The Rangers simply can't afford a stretch of games where the offense doesn't show up, or defensive lapses put the team in a deep hole. No game epitomized that inconsistency like their 6-3 loss to the New Jersey Devils
on March 10.
At times, the Rangers looked like a team that could play with anyone, driving the net on goaltender Martin Brodeur
and responding quickly when the Devils grabbed a few early one-goal leads.
In the end, there wasn't enough grit and fight to their game and the Devils cruised to an easy victory. That hasn't been the case in wins against the Atlanta Thrashers
and Philadelphia during the weekend.
Clearly the message is getting across -- the Rangers are suddenly playing with a sense of urgency.
"I guess the message is that we are going to respond and we are going to be there step for step with them," said Rangers forward Brandon Dubinsky
, who fought Flyers captain Mike Richards
on Sunday. "If they want to play a physical game, we are going to mix it up. We have guys in here that are willing to do that and guys that are good at it.
"We are not going to back down. We are going to continue to fight, scratch and claw every game here to find a way to get into the playoffs."
That's been the mantra all season, but much like someone who is trying to quit smoking, there have been lapses in that system.
And if there's one thing the Rangers can't afford with the Canadiens -- winners of five straight -- coming to town, it's a breakdown.
"These are desperate times for us," said Rangers captain Chris Drury
. "Obviously every game is a big game and now we have to regroup and get ready for a real good Montreal team that is one of the hottest teams in the League."
It will be interesting to see if the Rangers will back up their words with action Tuesday night.
"It feels like the playoffs already the way we prepare," Lundqvist said. "Hopefully it is a good start for us (beating the Flyers). I see it as a new start. Let's see what we can do."
Follow Dave Lozo on Twtter at: @DLozoNHL