Sunday, April 03, 2011

N.Y. RANGERS ~ Bigger Heart Wins Out Over Big Bodies

Sunday's Games:

New York Rangers 3
Philadelphia Flyers 2

NEW YORK RANGERS:  Blueshirts restore hope with a huge win over Philadelphia and wipe the horrible memory of the Islanders debacle out of our minds.

It was just about a year ago around this time that the Rangers lost to the Flyers in a shoot out and let an opportunity at making the playoffs spiral down a fifth floor MSG toilet.  The Rangers desperation for two points was just as dire then as it was today.  That fateful game last season was Henrik's 17th consecutive and last start of the season for the Blueshirts.  It was also the end of a season run that wore the goalie down.

This year, today's game against Philadelphia was consecutive start number 23 for King Henrik.  But with only three games left on the schedule (all at home), Henrik will not quite match last year's total of 73 starts in net.  He'll end close though.  But maybe, just maybe, Marty Biron served his role well enough and early enough before he got injured.  He did start 21 games in net before going down.  And Henrik appears to be a fresher goalie for it.

In today's game both goalies gave up two goals while stopping thirty-four shots each in regulation time plus the extra five.  Then, sure enough and to no one's surprise, the Rangers went into a Shoot-Out against the Flyers; just like last year.  Unlike last year's match-up when the Rangers (and both teams) were in a do or die situation to make the playoffs because it was the last game of the season, the Blueshirts still have the slimmest of margins to wiggle their way into the second season with three games remaining if all they managed today was just the one point.

But this year's team is a radically different product than the unit which fell short last season.  Sure, the standings and their situation seem similar to last year's end of season dilemma.  But this team unlike last season's edition has already sold us on the notion they are a never say die squad.  These young guys got spunk.  And when things seemed to break down before and the fan's hopes seemed to be crumbling along with them, time and again, these young Rangers came back and did something to reassure us they will not go quietly into the night and left us feeling good again.

It's so frustrating watching them play down to the likes of the Islanders, Senators and Florida, then suffering a back-breaker against the Sabres.  There was only a fraction of an inch of space for error in that Buffalo game, and we were the ones who found it and slipped.

But we can't lose sight of how young many of the present skaters are and how little NHL experience they have.  So considering the team we were supposed to be starting out the season compared to the team we are now, I'd say the transformation of this team on the fly has been quite remarkable and they don't deserve to get the Rangers 85 Year History book thrown at them.

These guys did things like what they started against the Flyers back in early March.  They pounded them for seven goals.  Then they beat the Sharks; Canadiens and the Penguins.  They muzzled the Bruins with a one goal shut-out.  They've pounded on the Caps a couple of times this season for good measure.  By doing things like that they've shown us they can contend and extend their season deep into Spring.  But then a drubbing like the one we endured against the Islanders makes one think if we really can and if we'll get the chance.

But today, The Rangers; The Road Warriors; - Today the Blueshirts rose to the occasion.  They did what needed to be done.  They went to Broad Street and beat the Bullies on their own ice.  There was a price to pay.  There always is when you visit Broad Street.  Marc Staal got a busted nose.  But Hockey players don't miss time.  They're not baseball players.

Now the Rangers get to finish the last three games of the season all at Madison Square Garden starting Monday night against the Boston Bruins again.

Monday's game still means something to us because Brian McCabe scored on the power play today, just as he was brought here to do.  Tomorrow's game still has major significance because Ruslan Fedotenko gave the Rangers a 2-1 lead in the second period with the team's second goal after Philly opened the scoring in the first period.  We are still in control of our destiny because Henrik Lunqvist is playing like a franchise goalie when his team needs him to be a King most.  And we still have continuing, meaningful Hockey to play beginning tomorrow night because Erik Christensen and Wojtek Wolski complemented Henrik's no goals allowed in Sunday's shoot-out against the Flyers.

Like you, I watched today's game on TV-NBC.  The guys name escapes me right now, but whomever was calling the game with Doc Emerick said upon the Flyers first goal scored in the first period, "Big Bodies Matter".  In describing the Flyers goal, that may have been true.  The notion continued to hold true for several minutes, and bore more truth when a Rangers' attempt on net was denied because a Blueshirt got pushed and tossed out of the crease by the Flyers' defense.

If Big Bodies Matter, then this game was proof that sometimes a Bigger Heart and more Fortitude can get you through a game.  Size certainly helps.  I know it; Ranger fans know.  It's something we always wished we had for a very long time.  But on a day like today, Size came in a distant third to the Rangers' intangibles they brought with them to Philly.

Bring on the Bruins.

Final: Buffalo 2; Carolina 1   S.O.
Our neighbors from Long Island didn't care to respond to the Bat Signal the Rangers sent up during the Islanders' game against Carolina, but our cross-state friends did.  The Rangers received much need help from the Sabres as they beat Carolina today.  These two teams also played into over-time.  Buffalo's Chris Butler scored in the first period and Carolina's Eric Staal scored in the second period.  The third period remained scoreless and off to over-time they went.  At 2:56 of the five minute session, Buffalo's young Defenseman - Marc-Andre Gragnani scored the first NHL goal of his career and second ever point to win it for Buffalo.

And here's what the bottom of the Eastern Conference Bracket looks like now:

#1 ~ *Philadelphia ~ 103
#2 ~ *Washington ~ 103
#3 ~ *Boston ~ 99
#4 ~ Pittsburgh ~ 100
#5 ~ Tampa Bay ~ 97
#6 ~ Montreal ~ 91
#7 ~ Buffalo ~ 90
#8 ~ NEW YORK ~ 89
#9 ~ Carolina ~ 87
#10 ~ Toronto ~ 84

RANGERS Remaining Games:
BOSTON ~ April 4th
ATLANTA ~ April 7th
NEW JERSEY ~ April 9th

Now that Mats Zuccarello is back with the AHL-Whale, it's unlikely Sean Avery will be the designated healthy scratch anymore.  But it doesn't look like Coach Torts will use him any differently that he has the majority of the season; which is very little.  Against the Flyers he was allotted 5:20 minutes and nine shifts; by far the fewest on the team.  Rounding out the rest of the bottom three ice participants were Christensen playing 9:07 minutes with thirteen shifts while Wojtek Wolski, who on the other side of this line logged 9:17 minutes and 13 shifts.

Here's a question.  Does Brandon Dubinsky still really deserve to be getting 24 minutes a night; every night?

Here's another question.  Do you give Henrik Lundqvist a day off against Atlanta?  In a perfect world we'd be able to afford giving him the Devils game off.  Is this even a consideration right now?  It probably depends on what the Rangers do against Boston tomorrow and how the Sabres and Carolina fare until the Atlanta game rolls around.  But should we really risk giving Chad Johnson a start in one of the remaining three games?  I think we all agree Henrik can use the day off?  The the bigger question is do we actually do it?  Can we afford to?

I feared, some weeks ago, that the Rangers' season finale against the New Jersey Devils would loom large in the Blueshirts playoff push.  It still appears if that regular season ending game will have as much significance in deciding our playoff fate as tomorrow's game against Boston will.  This Blueshirt quest for a ticket into the second season is going to use every regulation minute permissible, and I just know the Devils game will be there to factor into our best laid plans.

*If the Rangers make the Playoffs, watch for the season long, tense but civilized relationship between Coach Torts and writer Larry Brooks to end.  That's a situation that is ready to go BOOM! and there's nothing like the playoffs to light that fuse.


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