Yes, give credit to the New Jersey Devils for coming out guns blazin’ in each of these first four Eastern Conference Finals games against the New York Rangers. You must give credit where credit is due, however, if the Rangers lose this series, a result I am now unfortunately leaning towards, even with it tied, they can only blame themselves. They never have or ever will make things easy on themselves or the fans that ardently watch them and spend exorbitant amounts of money to see them play live, because that is the curse that hovers over this team, ever since television announcer Sam Rosen bestowed on them, “This one will last a lifetime!” moments after winning the Stanley Cup in 1994. Even that team could not get it done easily, loaded with all-stars and future hall-of-famers. Comparisons have been drawn between this current team and that legendary one, and all I can do is laugh at that, because that team at least had the killer instinct. Make no mistake, I do not want this to seem like a full-throttle damning of a team that finished first in the Eastern Conference, and yes, always performs well with their backs against the wall, but that is exactly the problem. They cannot seem to focus unless they absolutely have to, such as when facing elimination or coming off an extremely poor performance.
The Rangers stormed into these playoffs with a four-goal out-burst in Game One of the playoffs. They have yet to score more than three since then, 17 games later. We knew the Rangers would have difficulty scoring goals, but did anyone dream it would be this bad? The defense and goaltending has been beyond superb, and will not be the reason for this team’s downfall; it is just a simple matter of scoring goals against your opponent and taking the pressure off that defense and goaltending. Not wanting to dwell on the past, this current series alone has been a prime example. The Rangers have not played a full 60 minutes—hell, they might not have even played a combined 60 minutes of decent hockey when adding it up through all four games. The Rangers are only even tied because of one player: Henrik Lundqvist, who should have stormed off the ice and quit after the first period of last night’s game, when the players in front of him put up their most putrid showing of the playoffs. It was disgusting, atrocious hockey, with no answer to the Devils’ strong forecheck. There was no countering at all. They allowed themselves to be blistered for minutes at a time, only to finally clear the zone and do it all over again.
By luck, the Rangers have won two games here, each mirroring the other one: don’t bother showing up for the first two periods, allow Lundqvist to psych out the Devils with some amazing stops, then strike with two goals and an empty netter in the third period to put the game away. While we are all very happy that the team does have two wins, we just had to know that no team can sustain that type of play and win a series. That is where killer instinct comes in. The Rangers could have very well ended the series last night, but instead, they did exactly what they did in the previous six opportunities they had to go up by two wins in a series: lose. The Broadway Blueshirts are now a staggering 0-7 in that situation. People have asked, “Are you really surprised?” The safe answer is, “No”, but maybe I expected that to change. Maybe I expected them to learn from their mistakes. Even with all of our frustration, this team has always responded in the face of adversity. Well, being up by a game with a chance to send the series back to MSG to try to move on to the Finals would have been positive adversity. Yet, here we are again, thinking about what could have been, and watching our top stars just waltz around and contribute absolutely nothing. Shall we give Brad Richards a pass for services rendered in the previous two series? Maybe, but Marian Gaborik will get no leeway, a man who has been so invisible, Claude Raines would be asking him for tips if he was still alive. Then there is the beloved captain, Ryan Callahan, who only has an empty net goal to speak for his abilities in this round. The Rangers forwards have been so bad, that a kid who has not even appeared in a regular season game yet has outplayed them, getting himself priority minutes, because he is the only one that has any life to him.
The Rangers had to know this was going to happen—that their shot-blocking frenzies would come back to bite them, and it has, because now they simply have no bite. Not to mention coach John Tortorella assisting the chief grave-digger here by ruthlessly lambasting the officials all season long, then wondering why his team never seems to get any calls. Spare me the league-wide anti-Ranger conspiracy jargon, and go for something much more simple; let me ask you a question: if you were a referee who had to put up with that nonsense while working on the ice, then hear the comments in the press conferences, would you keep an extra sharp eye out for players doing something against the Rangers? Or would you put them under a microscope and make calls, while swallowing the whistle on the Devils, out of just sheer annoyance and frustration? They are supposed to be unbiased machines, but they are also human, and humans have memory.
Two wins and two losses away from either going to the Stanley Cup finals or going home to play golf. The grave is about three feet deep right now, but the shovels are standing by. How many heroics does this team have left? I am not holding my breath. Should the Rangers lose tomorrow night, it will be over. If they win, then we’ll probably have this same song and dance when they go to the Prudential Center for Game Six with a chance to close it out. We’ve been there before, and we’ll probably be there again.