One goalie leaving, the other in his prime. Could this be a passing of the torch?
This is going to be a two-part series, the second of which will feature some guest writers and their take on the surprising rise and disappointing fall of the New York Rangers in this 2011/2012 season.
The NHL playoffs can be described as one word: relentless. The pace is non-stop, the play is aggressive, and there is never a moment’s peace where one can step back and take a deep breath. On that basis alone, one could argue that the New York Rangers have been in the playoffs for the entire season, starting before the season actually started. Playoffs are full of endless trials and tribulations, elated moments of victory and agonizing moments of defeat. It does not matter how it ends, and people rarely think about how it even begins. For the Rangers, it started with a 10,000 mile trek across Europe for some pre-season match-ups with local teams, culminating with two season-opening games in Stockholm, Sweden against the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks. When they returned to North America, they then had to go on an elongated break and even more road games, as Madison Square Garden’s phase one transformation had not yet been completed. It took a while for the Rangers to get going, but once they did, there was never a break. Even with some bumps in the road along the way, the Rangers managed to lose three regulation games in a row only twice in the regular season, and then once in the playoffs. They did all of this while being watched by HBO’s cameras 24 hours a day, seven days a week for the month of December, and then had to prepare for a mini-Stanley Cup game, as I refer to the Winter Classic, against the Philadelphia Flyers in Citizens Bank Ballpark, in front of 50,000 fans, a game which they won with a late comeback and some stellar goaltending.
With the New York Rangers only one loss away from being eliminated from the Eastern Conference Finals, the farthest point in their playoff lives since 1997, all the what-if questions will now start to rear their ugly heads. While in a few weeks, regardless of the now ominous outcome that seems likely to unfold, we will all sit back and say this season was a success, and an immense one at that, but for now, positivity must be shelved to address the current problem: why are the Rangers having such a difficult time in these playoffs? While I was angry the last time I wrote about this team, something I do not do much anymore on this blog, I just want to make it clear that no matter what happens, no one can question this team’s heart and character, but unfortunately, heart and character do not win hockey games on their own, they act as a compliment with skill and help drive teams toward winning.
Well, this is what we were all waiting for: the series of the year. While fans of the New York Rangers rooted wholeheartedly for the Florida Panthers, and, dare I say it, Philadelphia Flyers in the first two rounds, the New Jersey Devils’ fans cheered on the Ottawa Senators and Washington Capitals with a passion. All the ill-wishing was for naught, however, as it is only by destiny and the fate ordained to us by the Hockey Gods (with a little consideration for league economics; did you hear that sound at about 10:15 Saturday night? That was the thud of NBC Sports Corporation executives jumping up and down) that these are the two teams which will meet in the Eastern Conference Finals, the prelude to the Stanley Cup. These two teams met there once before, when the Rangers defeated them in seven games back in 1994, thanks to a double-overtime winner by Stephane Matteau, but that moment is long gone now, except for the Devils that hold onto the final shred: the only player still currently playing that was on either team, Martin Brodeur. That was his first full season, and now many think this one will be his last—either way, you can be sure that the Rangers would love nothing more than to see Brodeur’s career begin and end with a Conference Finals loss at their hands, while Brodeur will do everything in his power to have the last laugh this time.
Just a quick post after tonight’s New York Rangers’ victory over the Washington Capitals to get to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1997. My third round picks will be coming up tomorrow.
Maybe it was fate. Maybe the Hockey Gods just wanted their preeminent league to make a ton of money as the best possible match-up for this series marketing-wise came into place. It does not matter. I am not going to offer a prediction just yet in regards to the series, but what I will say is, it is going to be a war. A guerrilla war—the cut, slash, and run kind. It does not matter who you root for or how confident you are in your team. If you are a true fan, you just may lose a few years off your life in the next two weeks. Both teams want to win, but each could accept losing…if it was not for the opponent at hand. The stresses experienced in these playoffs will only be magnified because of who each respective team is playing.
Despite some questionable coaching decisions and lackluster performances in each game following a very important overtime win, the New York Rangers are farthest into the playoffs than they have been since 2007, when they lost to the Buffalo Sabres in six games. The first six games of this series has been a see-saw match, as no team has yet to win two in a row, and the largest margin of victory has been two goals. The team that has scored first has won every game, even after in the first five games, the opponent has tied the score at 1-1; the only exception so far being last night, when the Washington Capitals found themselves with their greatest lead of the series at 2-0. The Rangers have a habit of never making things easy. Though the playoffs are not what they used to be—the mantra of “just get in” has worked wonders—as seeding seems to mean absolutely nothing anymore, the Rangers had a hard time beating the Ottawa Senators, and have now taken the Capitals to the brink. Having lost the last two playoff match-ups against this very same team, the Rangers desperately need to get their act together with their backs against the wall on Saturday night. This series has been a microcosm of their season, where nothing ever came easy, and the Rangers always emerged on top. After two thrilling overtime wins and some spectacular play from goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, all would unfortunately be for naught if the Blueshirts cannot close out the Capitals in Game Seven two days from now, a game that has become the hottest ticket in town…quite literally.
Well, as usual, my first round predictions were forgettable to say the least, getting only three out of the eight overall outcomes right, and none in the exact number of games played. As you know, there is a definition of insanity that can be seen as, “Repeating the same action over and over again, expecting different results.” That said, it’s time for my second round predictions. May I have better luck with these:
(1) New York Rangers vs. (7) Washington Capitals: Rangers in 7
(5) Philadelphia Flyers vs. (6) New Jersey Devils: Flyers in 6
(2) St. Louis Blues vs. (8) Los Angeles Kings: Kings in 5
(3) Phoenix Coyotes (4) Nashville Predators: Predators in 7
First off, congratulations to both the Ottawa Senators and New York Rangers for a thrilling, stress-inducing, and hard-fought seven game series. It truly epitomized what hockey was all about when the playoffs roll around: scoring, toughness, excitement, and timely goaltending. While all of us, I am sure, had a few minutes [or hours] removed from our lives because of how close all the games were, would you have it any other way? Of course not! The Rangers did what they were supposed to do, and it was not easy, but they find themselves advancing to the second round to face the Washington Capitals, a team I did not want to face in the first round at all, because the Rangers’ last two playoff exits have come at their hands. You could look at the situation in one of two ways: 1) The Rangers are due for a playoff win because the law of averages states that Washington cannot continue the success they have had, or 2) The Capitals just have the Rangers’ number and are in their heads, therefore they will win yet again. Either way you want to look at it, there is not time for much thinking, as Game One is tomorrow afternoon. Not having much time off will probably go to benefit the Rangers more than hurt them; after winning such an emotional game, it would be good to get right back out there as soon as possible, rather than sit around.