“They just play like they don’t care. Then you get those great quotes from their captain: ‘There’s always tomorrow.’ [The franchise’s legendary captain] would never have said something so stupid. They need to get some guys that play with a sense of urgency and heart.”
That quote sure sounds like it’s about the 2009-’10 New York Rangers – at least it describes the team’s first 72 games or so. But in fact that was said about the Flyers by my Philly-fan brother. Hey, what do you know? Other teams have similar issues to the Rangers, too. (My other brother is a Bruins fan – every time we get together a bench-clearing brawl breaks out at dinner.)
The Rangers are on a roll. The Rangers began the season on a roll, but since those first few weeks, they’ve been very un-roll-like. In fact, there have been no rolls at all, until now. They’d sprinkle in a few quality-to-great games here and there – you know, when they’d forecheck, defend, hit, swarm to the net, play a fundamentally sound game – and then they’d turn around and act like they’d rather do anything than play a hockey game. So it was hard to predict that the Rangers would finish the season with a big winning streak (though it’s not over yet).
Of course, it helps that the Flyers, Bruins and Thrashers have struggled going into the homestretch, but if the Rangers haven’t gotten 11 out of a possible 12 points in their last six games, it wouldn’t have mattered. And sure, the Blueshirts’ latest opponents aren’t very good and some of those teams have played terribly games against them, but when has a mediocre opponent ever stopped the Rangers from losing?
With Ryan Callahan and Sean Avery out with injuries John Tortorella has had no choice but to give extra minutes to the grinders and hustlers. Aaron Voros was released from the Witness Protection Program, and the Artem Anisimov/Brandon Prust/Jody Shelley trio has gone from the fourth line to The Line. These personnel moves have simplified the team’s game. They dump the puck in, forecheck, throw the puck to the net and send bodies to the net. Simple, right? Marc Staal has stepped up his game immensely, being a dominant force in his own end, and he’s scored a goal in three straight games, with his last one looking like he was doing his Brian Leetch impression. Even Dan Girardi, Michal Rozsival and Chris Drury have been good. And Henrik Lundqvist keeps playing every game, and keeps his team in every game.
Can the Rangers keep it up for four more games? The last six games caught everybody by surprise, so who knows how they’ll finish. But the Rangers now have their fate in their own hands, and they’re even fun to watch to boot. Who would have thought that would have been the case just 10 days ago?
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