The 2007-2008 New York Rangers went through an uneven season. It was a season filled with promise and hope. It was a season where the Stanley Cup was supposed to travel to Madison Square Garden.
Unfortunately, the Rangers’ season came to a premature end, due to bonehead mistakes.
For instance, the penalties the team committed at inopportune times and injuries that severely handicapped the team in the postseason, for example Center Sean Avery's ruptured spleen.
The disappointing pinnacle of the season was a 3-2 overtime loss in the game five of the Eastern Conference Semifinal vs. the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The ominous signs of season's end were present in two debilitating losses during the regular season.
One of the losses was a February game against the Montreal Canadians, where the Rangers had a 5-0 lead over Montreal. It was a lead that looked insurmountable.
Unfortunately, that was not the case as goaltender Henrik Lundqvist and the defense gave up five goals in the final two periods before dropping the contest in the shootout.
The other defeat was the regular season finale against the New Jersey Devils, in which home ice advantage in the postseason was on the line. The Rangers lacked the killer instinct in that game. It was an instinct that led to their untimely demise.
The Rangers weaknesses were exploited in the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the No. 2 seed Pittsburgh Penguins, led by youngsters Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby.
Game one saw the Rangers take a 3-0 lead in the second period on goals by Martin Straka, Sean Avery, and Chris Drury.
Goals by Jarrko Ruutu and Marian Hossa shifted the momentum in Pittsburgh's favor, before Scott Gomez tied the game with a goal in the third period.
A costly penalty by Straka became the recurring theme of the series when Malkin cashed in with a power play goal with 1:41 to play to win game one for the Penguins.
Ranger penalties continued in game two when Pittsburgh Center Jordan Staal scored the only goal the team would need after Chris Drury’s hooking penalty.
Pittsburgh goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury was outstanding in net for the Penguins as he recorded his first playoff shutout. The Rangers’ backs were now against the wall.
What would the team do for an encore?
Game three provided drama and excitement at the Garden as the Rangers stormed back down 3-1.
Goals from third line winger Ryan Callahan and captain Jaromir Jagr tied the game. Sloppy play on the penalty kill and a penalty by Ryan Hollweg led to another game winning goal by Evegeni Malkin.
The Rangers were stagnant on the Pittsburgh power play, just standing around and watching Malkin beat Lundqvist gloveside.
Suddenly, the Rangers were one loss away from elimination and one loss of a player as well. Rangers Center Sean Avery played with a ruptured spleen in game three.
The Rangers couldn't replace Avery's toughness but were able to play with a sense of urgency in game four. Jaromir Jagr led the way with two goals as Henrik Lundqvist got a shutout of his own in a 3-0 Rangers victory.
More importantly, the Rangers now have their first playoff win. This set the stage for game five at Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh. Marian Hossa opened the scoring with a goal off the first of three penalties from Rangers’ defenseman Michael Roszival.
Evgeni Malkin added a goal four minutes later. The Rangers attempted only four shot in the second Period. After two third period goals to tie the game, Chris Drury was called for a four minute high sticking penalty with 1:18 remaining in regulation.
The penalty killing of the Rangers left the team lethargic and exhausted in overtime where Marian Hossa scored the game winning goal an won the series for the Penguins.
The Rangers committed a total of six penalties in the game and were undisciplined throughout the series.
As the Pittsburgh Penguins march on to the Eastern Conference Finals, the New York Rangers have to contemplate this series throughout the offseason and look at what might have been.
Now the Rangers have to focus on next season and find out if their captain Jaromir Jagr will return. Jagr has expressed interest in playing in his native Czech Republic.
The 1994 Stanley Cup championship feels like a distant memory.
As Sam Rosen said that fabled summer night in 1994, "This one will last a lifetime." Hopefully this playoff defeat won't last in the players' minds for that long.
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