This was supposed to be their year.
After a hot 10-2 start with a new system and new players, the New York Rangers were supposed to be Stanley Cup contenders.
Now, they are merely playoff contenders. As they prepare for the final two games of the season, the Rangers need a win or a Florida Panther regulation loss to clinch. But neither of these things will come easily.
The Rangers have a home-and-home against the Philadelphia Flyers, who are fighting for postseason home-ice advantage. And if you're any kind of New York fan, you know all Philly clubs have had the Big Apple's number the past few years.
So we ask ourselves, as Ranger fans, how are we here?
Well, for anybody who watches the games, it was pretty simple. The players stopped playing for Tom Renney.
Renney wasn't perfect and had many flaws, but he is also the man who brought the Rangers to three straight playoff appearances after the lockout. And remember, the Rangers had missed the playoffs seven years in a row due to horrible coaching and poor play by overpaid guys.
Was it all Renney's fault that the team went against him?
No. It was the players', especially the two biggest signings, captain Chris Drury and Scott Gomez, who quit playing for their coach first.
Renney's defensive system didn't sit well with Drury and Gomez's skating and scoring ability. Now, under John Tortorella, the skating is there, but the scoring is still missing.
And I won't even mention the absence of the leadership these guys were supposed to bring. It's never compared to the mentality that Jagr or Shannahans instilled.
There are more guys to blame, like Wade Redding, who seems to be more of a bust than Luis Castillo and still has five years to go after this one. The guy isn't bad, he's horrific.
Whenever he touches the puck, Ranger fans fear for the worst, and usually it happens. He was supposed to help the power play, but he has made it even worse then it was, and that was hard to do. I blame that signing on Glenn Sather.
Now, John Tortorella (and his attitude) has been brought in, and he's done a wonderful job. But we will find out Sunday if it has been enough.
Not to take anything away from Tortorella, because the roster is composed mostly of guys he would probably trade or not re-sign, but the biggest reason the Rangers are even in the hunt now is Sean Avery.
Like him or hate him, you have to admit that when Avery dons a Ranger sweater, he makes the team better. Whether it's in front of the goalie or running his mouth from the bench or even taking a stupid penalty, he usually riles this team up. He is fun to watch if you are a Ranger fan, and he always gives it his all.
While he might not be captain material due to his attitude and his so-called "shenanigans" (as the announcing team on Versus loves to say), he is a true leader because he gets the team going. He produces nothing but wins when he is in the lineup.
When the Rangers (hopefully) get the win on Thursday, everyone will have to agree that Sean Avery, Henrik Lundqvist, and Tortorella are the only reasons this team even made it.
It could be a fun last two games of the season for the Rangers, as they could even finish in seventh with a little help. They'll see one of Boston, Washington, or even those free falling Devils in the first round. Any would make for great matchup.
If they play the Bruins, you have an Avery-and-Tim Thomas rematch. Remember when Avery "accidentally" hit Thomas in the head with the stick very lightly, and Thomas went right after him?
Or we could see the Ovechkin-led Capitals come to Broadway in the postseason. What could be more electric?
But of course, what most Ranger (and hockey in general) fans want is another battle between Avery and N.J.'s Martin Brodeur. We're all eager to see the handshake at the end of the series, whether or not the NHL makes a new rule to help Brodeur deal with Avery, or if the Devils and Brodeur can finally play their game against the "King of Pests."
But in the end, I must remind you that we shouldn't be staring down these teams; we should be on the top side of the seedings. It was supposed to be the Rangers fighting for home ice, and wondering which bottom-feeder they would play, and taking days off, knowing their spot was safe.
In the meantime, the next two games will be de facto playoff games. If this Rangers team happens to blow it this year, expect a major shake-up next year with John Tortorella.
Heck, even if they do make the postseason, expect changes; that's what Torts does.
So watch out, Drury.
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