Before I even start here, I must tell a quick story to those of you who think Sam bailed for the greener pasture of Augusta. I received a call from the former Wildcat early in the third period tonight.
*Frank Franklin II/AP*
He hadn’t heard a score and wanted to know the Rangers fate. When I told him it was 3-0, I mentioned how Petr Prucha and Jaromir Jagr had scored the first two goals. Then came the following exchange, which came at the urging of a woman who has season tickets next to The Journal News seat over the visiting team’s runway.
*Sam:* “Who scored the third goal?”
*Me:* “Your boy Malik!”
Obviously, he couldn’t believe it, but it was true. And that was right about when you realized the Rangers were headed to the postseason.
That they made it is pretty stunning. I know many of you had written them off when they fell to 12th place in the Eastern Conference Ã¢â‚¬â€ and rightfully so Ã¢â‚¬â€ and to see them clinch last night was a surprise.
You guys can go over the game all you want. My two favorite moments were Prucha’s goal three minutes into the game, which was obviously heaven-sent if you ask Ranger fans, followed by Blair Betts’ tremendous effort to thwart Saku Koivu in the second period with the handle of his broken stick.
So without any more conjecture, I’ll proceed with some quotes.
*Tom Renney Ã¢â‚¬â€*
On the recent play of Jagr, who became just the second player in NHL history to score 30-plus in 15 consecutive seasons (joining former Ranger Mike Gartner): “He looks fresh. He’s attacking. He’s playing all three zones as well as a guy his size can.”
He then continues to talk about his leadership: “He’s been a real inspiration to his team.”
On Petr Prucha’s goal: “Everyone of us was thrilled when the puck went in, not because we were up 1-0 but because Petr scored it.”
Here’s my favorite quote from him, on whether or not it’s important to finish sixth: “Yeah, it is. We’re going to Pittsburgh to win the game.” And you could tell he was dead serious.
On making the playoffs: “This is just the beginning now. It’s a clean slate for all the teams that start the postseason. We’re just one of them now.”
And this on winning: “This city wants a champion. And we’re going to do everything we can to do that.”
*Henrik Lundqvist Ã¢â‚¬â€*
On the turnaround: “I thought at the start of the season we had a good team but we didn’t play smart enough. We have a lot of talent but we took a lot of risks, which cost us a couple of points. After Christmas, and especially after the break, we started to play playoff hockey. We played smart, managed the puck better and it started to pay off. We started to take pride in small things and play better hockey.”
On his own play: “We’ve played a lot of games when they help me. Others, I’ve stepped out and helped them. That’s what it’s all about.”
*Jaromir Jagr Ã¢â‚¬â€*
He talked a lot about how different it is to play with four solid lines, and said it’s new for him but he likes it because he’s been much stronger in the third period of games.
About the turnaround, he added: “Two months ago, I started thinking about it. We just didn’t play the style we needed to play. We just didn’t play the way we needed to win. Lately, we’ve played to win.”
He also credited Avery yet again: “The way I look at it, I would say it was the addition of Sean Avery. We changed the lines around. We put three offensive lines together. He gives our coache a chance to shuffle the players around and still have more than one line with offense.”
*Blair Betts Ã¢â‚¬â€*
I asked Betts quickly about blocking Koivu’s shot with his broken stick: “It was a desperate move, but I had no other choice.”
*Petr Prucha Ã¢â‚¬â€*
Lastly, here’s Prucha on whether he thought the team was ever out of it: “No, we didn’t think like that. If you start thinking like you’re not going to make it, you’ll become a loser.”
If you heard him say it, you knew what he was going for. The Rangers couldn’t afford to get down on themselves until they were officially out.
Four more things before I go:
*1. The lovely Elisha Cuthbert was in the house.* Maybe she was good luck. Who knows? But she walked right by me as I stood in front of Section 112 waiting for one of my buddies who was at the game.
*2. Playoff tickets to go on sale on Tuesday at Noon.* You can get them at Ticketmaster on the Rangers website or through Ticketmaster by phone at 212-307-7171.
(UPDATED below, 12:10 a.m.)
*3. Hank probably in net on Saturday.* Renney, after saying the above quote about finishing sixth, said he expects to start Lundqvist in Pittsburgh.
*4. Check out what Carp has to say about Renney and the Rangers.* That’s our columnist Rick Carpiniello, who covered the Rangers for more than 20 years. “Carp wants to tell you that Tom Renney is not the buffoon fans made him out to be.”:http://carp.lohudblogs.com/
Ok, back tomorrow after the skate.