COMMENTARY | With just two weeks remaining in the 2013 NHL season, it's safe to say it's crunch time.
Three playoff spots in the Eastern Conference are up for grabs, and if the New York Rangers have any plans of reaching the big dance, they're going to have to address five major concerns.
Before their game April 10 versus the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Rangers had allowed more than three goals just once in 21 games.
Though impressive, the team's success comes entirely because of Henrik Lundqvist's sublime play. The defense runs around in its own zone on a nightly basis, and if it wasn't for Lundqvist's play, the Rangers would probably be out of the playoff race already.
Their constant collapsing in front of the net gives opponents both time and space to move the puck, and on nights when Lundqvist can't make every save the Rangers pay the price.
The Rangers have been one of the league's lowest-scoring hockey teams for the entirety of the 2013 season. Heading into their April 10 contest, they were ranked 25th with 96 goals.
At the trade deadline, they moved 40-goal scorer Marian Gaborik to Columbus for a trio of players. Although he led the team in goals in 2011-12, he has struggled this season, scoring only nine times in 35 games.
The Rangers now have to find a way to increase production without their main source of goals for the past three seasons. Derick Brassard and Ryane Clowe were added to the team at the deadline so they'll be expected to score down the stretch, as will superstar Rick Nash and captain Ryan Callahan.
Before the aforementioned April 3 trade deadline, the Rangers were power-play basement dwellers.
Both Clowe and Brassard have made important contributions since joining the team, but Mats Zuccarello has been most impressive. His vision and poise on the blueline have made him the team's best option to quarterback the power play.
Brad Richards has also improved, but if the team wants to not only make the playoffs but also make a run, the Rangers' power play must continue to improve.
Performances like they had April 8 in Toronto need to come few and far between.
Under head coach John Tortorella, the Rangers are expected to apply heavy pressure to suffocate the opposition.
To do that, the team must first and foremost effectively forecheck. When the Rangers do, they're one of the toughest teams in the league to beat. That being said, it's been a struggle all season for the team to consistently forecheck well. In most cases, the Rangers have allowed opponents to play their game while the Rangers were left playing catchup.
The team's forecheck has been best since the shake up April 3. The new players have adopted Tortorella's mantra and existing players seem to have finally come around.
Lundqvst's performance is not a concern, but his health and energy level are.
Backup goalie Martin Biron has only started five games this season, and with the team in such a heated race to make the playoffs, there's no telling if he's going to get the nod again. On many nights, Lundqvist has been berated with shots and has quite literally had to stand on his head.
Lundqvist is a guy who's hungry to win and will push himself to the limit every night but if he hurts himself, or runs out of gas, this team is finished.
Andrew Capitelli has been featured on Bleacher Report and Farmingdale Patch and has covered both NHL and college hockey, as well as the New York Rangers. Follow him on Twitter at @acapitelli.
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