By: Marvin Azrak
It’s time to check in on our New York Sports teams before the calendar flips to baseball-only season unless you’re in the NBA or NHL postseasons, so let’s take a look.
I would like to use this article to tell you that while I admire the fact you optimistic readers are tightly holding onto the thread that is the Knicks “play-in” hopes, their season will come to an end on April 10th. This is reminiscent of the way this organization followed up a 54 win season in 2013 and a playoff berth, with a 37 win season in 2014, yet due to a surge akin to this one stayed in the hunt until seasons end. Kudos to the players on the team for refusing to pack it in and playing the role of spoiler to playoff-bound teams.
On Wednesday, star RJ Barret dropped 30 points in a 121-106 victory at the Charlotte Hornets (39-36), who are battling for play-in positioning with hopes of notching the 7th or 8th seed so they have two cracks at qualifying for the playoffs. On Friday, they went down to south beach and stunned the top-seeded Heat 111-103, rallying from a 15-point deficit at the beginning of the fourth. Keying the comeback was Immanuel Quickly, who dropped 20 of his 23 points in the last stanza.
The Knicks then held off the Detroit Pistons in the Motor city on Sunday 104-102, before stirring up a 109-104 upset of the Bulls (43-32) on Monday night at the Garden. Stretches like these prove the problem was closing out games throughout the season and that this team still has that passion, fire and spirit from their 41-31 campaign in 2021 which could bode well for the 2023 campaign.
On behalf of Nets fans, thank you mayor Eric Adams for lifting the private sector vaccine mandate which means Kyrie Irving can become a full-time player as Brooklyn chases a championship. If the playoffs started on 3/29, the eighth seeded Nets would face the Cavaliers in Cleveland for the seventh seed, but a loss wouldn’t necessarily eliminate them for they would host the winner of the Hornets (39-37) and Hawks (38-37) for the eighth seed.
The Islanders are showing signs of a team that you should expect to return to form next season. Prior to two straight losses to the Bruins (6-3 score) in Boston, and Lightning at UBS arena (4-1), they were 7-1-1 in their last 10 games.
Following their 7-4 March 12th victory over the Stars to split the four games road trip, the Rangers returned home and netted a 4-3 extra time win over the Ducks, with Adam Fox playing hero in a game Alexander Georgiev started. Two days later, New York began a slew of participating in battles with a playoff type feel, as Igor Shesterkin of the Rangers, and Ilya Sorokin of the Islanders turned in a compelling net minders duel, with the difference being Sororkin sprawling from right to left and just getting his stick on a well-placed Artemi Panarin shot for the save of the year, and a 2-1 Isles win.
On March 19th, the Blueshirts began 48 hours of anticipated torture with road games against the mighty Tampa Bay Lightning and Carolina Hurricanes. The Bolts peppered Shesterkin, and the Rangers fired the way of Andre Vasilevskiy, with New York getting the last laugh and sweeping the season series, when Mika Zibanejad fired home a one-timer from Artemi Panarin with one second left on the power play and 16 seconds left in the game to secure a 2-1 victory. A night later a phenomenon transpired when Alexander Georgiev backstopped 44 shots, and despite being outshot 44-18, New York received a goal from Chris Kreider and an empty-netter from newly acquired Frank Vatrano for an improbable 2-0 win over the Canes.
On deck was the March 21st trade deadline where the Blueshirts were active but no move was bigger than the acquisition of 27 year old defensemen Andrew Copp and a 2023 6th round pick from the Winnipeg Jets in exchange for two second round picks, a 2023 fifth and underperforming prospect Morgan Barron. Copp instantly made an impact, having two points in what was otherwise a night to forget in the Rangers
7-4 debacle down in New Jersey last Tuesday against the Devils where Igor Shesterkin served up five goals in six minutes in the second period and the defense was virtually non-existent.
But this past Friday, the opposite end of the spectrum showcased itself when New York throttled the Pittsburg Penguins 5-1 in a potential first round playoff preview at Madison Square Garden, potting three goals in a span of two minutes early in the game, and never looked back from there, as even Copp scored his first as a Ranger. It would set the stage for Sunday, where at a contest yours truly was at, Frank Vatrano struck with two goals in 18 seconds to give New York the early lead against the Buffalo Sabres, but three straight goals against Georgiev saw that effort go to waste. However, tallies by Alexi Lafrenire and Artemi Panarin reacquired the advantage, before a Jeff Skinner power play goal ultimately sent the game time overtime.
In the 3 on 3 extra frame, Copp brought the puck into the zone, fed Laffy, who then found a streaking Keandre Miller, who socked home the overtime winner for a 5-4 Rangers win, sending the sold out crowd of 18,006 which included me into a frenzy.
Entering Tuesday’s rematch at PPG paints arena against the Penguins, the Rangers sit third in the Metro (5th in the NHL) with 89 points, only trailing the Pens (40-17-10 , 90 points) and the first-place Hurricanes(44-15-7, 95 points). With 16 games left, the Blueshirts magic number to secure a playoff spot for the first time since 2017, is at 13 points, and will decrease with their own wins or a losses by the Blue Jackets (32-29-5, 69 points).