Friday, February 25, 2011

N.Y. RANGERS; Start Growing the Beards! This IS Playoff Time

For the first time this season, the Rangers were threatened with getting eighth place jammed down their throats.  That pill would have been hell to swallow.  For the Blueshirts, a loss to the Hurricanes Tuesday night might have also started the slippery slide out of playoff contention everyone has in the back of their minds.  For a very brief time earlier this season the Rangers have been ranked as high as fifth in the Conference and are currently engaged in an all out defense of their precious seventh spot.  A loss to Carolina would have put one Blueshirt hand on the exit door with their other hand clutching on to a Hurricane jersey.

The Rangers fought their way, and themselves, through another game. We all know Cam Ward and Carolina have always seemed to have our number. Carolina has a habit of giving us fits. They always manage to beat us at the most inconvenient times. That's why in this game, it was so refreshing to see the Rangers get out to an early 1-0 first period lead resulting from some nifty work by Sean Avery and a goal by Brandon Prust. We gave back the goal for a first period tie, but Ryan Callahan put us back in front just in time for the second intermission with a Power Play goal.  Yes, you heard correctly.  I said a Power Play goal.

The third period turned into the Jussi Jokenin Show for Carolina.  He beat Henrik Lundqvist for two goals and there went the Rangers' lead.  So much more could have been lost right then.  The Hurricanes held a 3-2 edge and seemingly had a hand around the Ranger season's neck.  The resulting choke would have been money in the bank, even right up until last season.  But that's why these guys are a little different that past editions of Blueshirts.  We no longer sit around waiting for the other shoe to fall off.  We no longer wait around for third periods where the Rangers built a reputation for collapsing like a circus tent at the end of another bad show. We now hang in there and fight because it's what we do best.

Michal Rozsival Wojtek Wolski decided to play Super Hero for a night and saved the Rangers in the nick of time. With less than two minutes remaining in regulation, Wolski beat Cam Ward for the Rangers' third and game tying goal. Glen Sather's pre-pre-pre trade deadline acquisition continues to play hard, effective hockey; fitting in seamlessly into the Blueshirts' lines while scoring the occasional big goal for us. No other Wolski goal has been as big as the one he scored Tuesday night.  It was also the Rangers' biggest goal of the year.  Yes, I think Wolski's goal was that important.  The short term goal for this team should be to never taste eighth place...ever!  ...from now till April.

Regulation expired as did over-time and the Rangers were still no better off than they were 65 minutes earlier. The Rangers last chance to put at least another point of distance between them and Carolina; teams Seven and Eight in the Conference standings, would be decided in a shoot-out.

Wojtek Wolski stepped up for the Rangers again and delivered the only puck to get past a Goalie in the over-over-time.  The diminutive forward scored the biggest goal of his short Rangers' career since the biggest goal he scored way back..... in the third period!  Hey, even Super Heroes have to work overtime once in a while.

Wojtek Wolski Michal Rozsival, stepped up Tuesday and shielded the Rangers' collective backside from feeling the frost of getting left out in the cold.  Eighth place has a way of pressing your butt against the cold door separating you from late February's chill..., and you never know when that door will bust open. When that happens, you fall down and roll out while another team sneaks into the House of Eight behind you and slams the door shut.  It happens like that all the time.  It's like Fred Flintstone trying to put out the cat every night.  Every episode is a struggle.

But this game turned out to be a reminder why we shouldn't be such a knee-jerk bunch when reacting to so many things about the Rangers; and namely the lack of scoring and a not so spectacular Henrik lately.  I personally am having a hard time taking frustrations out on the players.  They work too damn hard for that.

There are periphery issues with some players, but none that trump the aggravation I'm sure most of us share due to Glen Sather.  But the players?  No; - They are a good bunch worthy of supporting.

Thus far, those were two of the most important points the Rangers earned this season.  There are three points between us and the Carolina Hurricanes now.  The Rangers must continue to use Carolina as a buffer to protect against Buffalo, Atlanta, Toronto, Florida, and the hard charging Devils.  We can not taste Eighth place!


32-26-4   68 Points
7th Place, Eastern Conference


Washington Capitals
32-19-10  74 points
5th Place, Eastern Conference

Two points against Washington tonight gets us into the 70 point club.  All the Eastern Conference teams that matter have games in hand over us.  Any loss now by the Rangers shortens our season by a game on the back-end.  We'll have to play tonight's game without Marc Staal who got drubbed by his own brother during the Carolina game.  He'll be sitting out with a twisted knee and maybe even concussion issues.  This comes on the heals of losing Marian Gaborik to concussion symptoms.  Marian's return is still undetermined.  The Rangers have had to deal with a myriad of injuries to their forward lines.  Injury has now found our Defenses.  Marc Staal is the single-most player the Rangers can not afford to skate without.  We will see who Coach Torts will have out on the ice defending against Ovechkin's line.  But should Marc Staal miss any substantial time, I'll finally say we are in big trouble.  I've fought against feeling that way this long.  They've earned that from us. 

The playoffs have started early for the Rangers.  It's time to start growing those beards.  Playing with a sense of desperation is needed to carry us through to April.  There are exactly 20 games left on the schedule.  The battle to extend their season started Tuesday.  They need to dig deep within themselves now.

**The Trade Dead-Line looms and there's no sign of life coming out of Sather's office.  That may not be a bad thing.  I'm in no rush to start giving away any of our new young Blueshirts.  I'd rather see a cheap rental and more purging of the dead weight plaguing this roster.

** Ruslan Fedotenko returns to action tonight.



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