Rangers hit stride as playoffs approach

They haven’t all been pretty. They haven’t all been dominant. Regardless, the New York Rangers embark on a four-game swing through Western Canada having stacked together five consecutive wins.

For some perspective: the Blueshirts have not managed such a streak since the 2011-12 season.

In beating the Philadelphia Flyers Wednesday night, the Rangers extended their advantage within the Metropolitan Division standings –- they now lead the Flyers by three points, though Philly has two games in hand –- but more importantly, they are showing the type of consistency, toughness and depth that have been conspicuously absent previously this season.

The Rangers held a high-octane Flyers offense without a goal for more than 48 minutes Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden. Meanwhile, their fourth line chipped in with a pair of goals and defenseman Ryan McDonagh dazzled the crowd and his teammates with a stunner for his 14th goal of the season.

Even without one of their top-six forwards producing -- trade-deadline acquisition Martin St. Louis is still searching for his first goal as a Ranger -- the Rangers are hitting their stride. Chris Kreider, by the way, may or may not require surgery for a hand injury sustained last week.

They have one of the best goaltenders in the game in Henrik Lundqvist, who has a franchise-best 306 NHL wins after Wednesday, and a potential Norris Trophy candidate in defenseman Ryan McDonagh.

And they boast considerable balance, as evident by their fourth line’s straight-forward, and effective, performance Wednesday night.

“They are simple and they compete,” coach Alain Vigneault said after the team's win Wednesday night. “That fourth line is big, grinding, you know, wear-the-opposition type line, and when they find ways to contribute, like they have the last couple of games offensively, it makes our team that much better, as far as winning hockey games.”

The trio of Brian Boyle, Dominic Moore and Derek Dorsett (who has split time with Daniel Carcillo in this spot) has provided the Rangers with energy and timely production. Considering how potent Boston’s fourth line was against them in the Eastern Conference semi-finals last spring, this is a valuable asset as the Rangers prepare for the playoffs.

“You have to have that,” said Moore, who also won six of seven faceoffs Wednesday. “You can’t win without that. You see every game every night –- it’s usually one-goal games. [Wednesday] wasn’t the case, but everyone has to chip in and everyone has to be firing on all cylinders.”

Boyle said that the team’s considerable depth is an encouraging sign, especially at this time of year. The last time the Rangers were regarded in a similar way, when they finished on top of the East after the regular season in 2012, the club made it to the Conference finals.

This team has some similarities to that one, according to Boyle. “It’s a pretty well-oiled machine,” he said.

Though their playoff position is favorable –- sportsclubstats.com has the team’s chances of making it at 99% -- the Rangers will be tested during this upcoming stretch in travel alone. Though the Avs are the only playoff team they’ll face before returning home for the final week of the regular season, the Rangers will make stops in Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver and Colorado.

Said Boyle, “There’s plenty on the line.”