It is ingrained from birth that nothing ever comes easy as a Ranger fan. That is one of those givens that is a universal truth. But why does every season have to seem like it is a scene out of a bad “Groundhog Day” sequel?

Last season’s Game 82 debacle against Philadelphia was bad enough, but this year is could be even worse aS the Rangers lost the ability to control their own playoff destiny. The Rangers have to hope that the Thrashers saved a little something for their home game against Carolina. If that does happen, then they once again can control their own destiny.

The playoff permutations still present a host of options based on the Rangers and Hurricanes winning games in regulation/overtime (i.e. ROW) as opposed to shootout wins and what the Buffalo Sabres do in their remaining two games.

Whatever the permutation or the result of the Thrashers-Hurricanes game, the Rangers face a must-win game in Game 82 (again) and the opponent is their division and Hudson River rival New Jersey Devils.

While the Devils have had an incredible run (26-14-3) since Jacques Lemaire took over from John Maclean, they have slacked off and are only 4-5-1 in their last 10 games.

Despite some of the most brutal late game losses from the Rangers during the past week plus, the Blueshirts are 6-3-1 in their last 10 games.

Come Saturday afternoon, you can pretty much throw both teams records out the window. The Rangers-Devils matchup represents New Jersey’s “Stanley Cup”. You know the Devils organization would relish the opportunity to put the final nail in the Rangers coffin.

If you think the New York Islanders get pumped up for their games against the Rangers, just wait until Lemaire’s boy hit the Garden ice. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Ken Daneyko and Scott Stevens lace them just one more time to keep the Metropolitan area without playoff hockey for the first time since 1966. Yes, you read that correctly. That is the last time the Metro srea did not have at least one team in the NHL playoffs.

In all seriousness, the Devils are expected to be without Dainius Zubrus , Colin White and Anton Volchenkov.

Conversely, the Rangers recalled Mats Zuccarello from Connecticut and Coach John Tortorella admitted that the specter of (again) failing in the shootout in Game 82 does play a part.

“Yeah, it has to come into our thinking. It’s crazy, but it has to come into our thinking. But he’ll come up and see what happens,” Tortorella admitted when quizzed by Rick Carpiniello of the Journal News.

To their credit, the Devils are keeping a low public profile in reference to playing spoilers.

“We do have a rivalry against them, so it definitely would be a little bit of a—not satisfaction because, seriously, we’re not going to win anything,” Martin Brodeur told Tom Gulitti of NorthJersey.com.

“We’re not getting back in the playoffs if we beat them, so it’s not to that point. But people care. It’s been tough on our fans to a certain extent to see, especially (after) the last time we played them in the playoffs (a five-game Rangers’ triumph in 2008). Even in the regular season they’ve been playing well against us on the upper hand. Between fans there’s a lot of things going on more than us, players. I don’t think I know one guy on the other team to talk to. I just play against them and that’s it.”

As I said, that is the Devils public stance. Gulitti offered a different side to the story when offering anonymity.

Gulitti wrote, “A couple of players did admit privately that they would like to knock the Rangers out, but no one would say that on the record.”

Quite frankly, I would expect the Devils to feel any other way. I am sure the Rangers would hold the same opinion of the skate were on the other foot.

In looking ahead to Saturday afternoon’s game, the Rangers have to be prepared to take the game to the Devils from the opening faceoff. Think back to Game 2 of the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals when Mark Messier set the tone on the very first shift of the game. Granted, there is no Mark Messier on this year’s team, but there is no reason that, as a team, they can’t come out and seize the tempo of the game.

They did it during the first five minutes against Atlanta and then seemed to settle back into whatever game Atlanta wanted to play. A repeat of that will spell disaster on Saturday.

While the Rangers have shown tremendous ability to bounce back off the ice all season long, they still have proven to be a fragile team. The Blueshirts might have been able to right the ship against the Thrashers if Atlanta hadn’t scored their second goal just 15 seconds later. Frankly, the Rangers were downright lucky not to be down three goals on that next shift.

You have to figure that the game is going to be a hard hitting and possibly nasty game that is going to require the special teams to step up. With inconsistent scoring at the heart of the Rangers problem, now is a good a time as any for the power play to step up at a crucial time.

For that to happen, and for the Rangers to produce offense at even strength, they MUST get traffic in front of the net – not at the side of the net. The Rangers can launch as many shots on goal as they want, but if they are not getting traffic in front for screens and deflections, they will be looking at an even earlier tee time.

The simple fact is one that has been hammered home by pretty much every writer, blogger and Blueshirt fan. The New York Rangers are not a talented enough team to get by on anything else that a 100% effort on 100% of their shifts. The time about worrying about other teams is over.

The only thing they can do right now is concentrate on their effort against the New Jersey Devils. They can’t be worried about the Carolina Hurricanes, or even the Buffalo Sabres who are just one point ahead of the Rangers. If Buffalo loses at home tonight to Philadelphia, then a Rangers win makes Buffalo’s final game of the year at Columbus a must-win for the Sabres.

The final word goes to Coach Tortorella.

“Yeah, we’ve been trying to … again, we’re a good hockey team. We’ve had a really good year. We have 43 wins. In the past five or six weeks, we’ve gone into San Jose and beaten them. We’ve gone into Pittsburgh, they opened the door with some undiscipline, we beat them. We’ve beaten Boston twice. We’ve beaten Philly twice. We’ve played some clunkers, but we’re a good hockey club. It’s not about correcting out in practice right now,” Tortorella told Carpiniello.

“It’s not about (video) tape work. It’s about how you feel about yourself as a player and as a group. And again, I am confident that these guys will recapture themselves, will feel good about themselves and play a really good game tomorrow.”

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