Three keys to Rangers’ stretch run toward postseason

The NHL’s Sochi Olympics freeze is finally over, and the Rangers are in the thick of the postseason hunt. However, their playoff spot is all but secure. Although the Blueshirts (32-24-3) are sixth in the Eastern Conference and second in the Metropolitan Division with 67 points, they are no lock to make the playoffs for the eighth time in nine seasons.

Here is a preview of the second half of the Rangers’ season, which begins on Thursday night at the Garden against the Blackhawks.


Too close for comfort

With just 23 games remaining on the schedule, every point counts. Seven teams — the Flyers, Red Wings, Blue Jackets, Senators, Capitals, Hurricanes and Devils — are just six points or fewer behind them, complicating their playoff aspirations.

In fact, they play three of those teams multiple times in the final month and a half of the regular season. They will face Carolina (61 points) three times, Philadelphia (66 points) and Ottawa (63 points) twice each.


Ride the King

Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist played great for Sweden in the Olympics (5-1, .943 save percentage, two shutouts) en route to a silver medal. He was also on a tear heading into the break, with a 10-2 record in his last 12 games for the Rangers, and the team will need his stellar play to continue. Lundqvist’s second-half performance in the NHL following Olympic competitions has been a mixed bag thus far — he was 5-5-3 after the 2006 games in Torino after winning gold and 8-4-3 after the 2010 games in Vancouver, when Sweden failed to medal. It is unclear if he will start in goal on Thursday night after playing without rest during the Olympics, however.


Get ‘Nashty’ again

Forward Rick Nash just won a gold medal with Canada in Sochi, but failed to score a goal and tallied just one assist in six games. Nash also did not record a point in the Rangers’ final five games before the Olympic break. With points leader Mats Zuccarello out at least three weeks due to a fractured left hand, Nash, who leads the Rangers in goals with 18, needs to quickly find his game again.