Looking forward before looking back:
Do you remember 1988? That was the year the Rangers shut out Quebec at the Garden (John Vanbiesbrouck doing the honors) on the final night of the season, and in a game that started an hour later, John MacLean scored in overtime in Chicago to put the Devils (coached by Jim Schoenfeld) into the playoffs for the first time and eliminate the Rangers, who were still in their lockerroom watching the finish.
How much do you think the Devils would love to spoil it for the Rangers again? Especially after the Rangers defeated the Devils in the 1992, 1994, 1997 and 2008 playoffs. Do you know that Jacques Lemaire has never beaten the Rangers in the playoffs (neither did Tommy McVie or Brent Sutter, but Lou Lamoriello did in 2006, the year Jaromir Jagr whiffed on his attempt to punch Scott Gomez and hurt his shoulder).
Anyway, this is the Devils’ season on Saturday. It is also the Rangers’ season. And it could be like ’88 in this way, too: The Rangers’ season could be over for six or seven hours before they know their fate.
1) The possibilities remain almost endless because of Bettman Bonus Points for losses. The most obvious possibilities surround Carolina, which still needs to get two more points than the Rangers over the next two nights. If the Canes lose tonight, the Rangers regain control of their destiny. And the Rangers can still get in with a loss Saturday if Carolina gets only one point out of its two games.
2) Buffalo is still in play. The Baby Buffaloes play Philly tonight and if they lose that game they could face a must-win in Columbus Saturday. The Rangers could catch Buffalo with a win and two Buffalo losses. And it’s also mathematically possible that both the Rangers and Carolina make the playoffs and Buffalo misses if the Babies lose both.
3) I know it was a little thing. Early in the game, Brandon Dubinsky, high in the offensive zone, made a cute little drop pass between his skates that backfired. I say it was a little thing because it didn’t cost the Rangers anything. But I maintain that when a team makes plays like that — where a much better, much more within-the-Rangers-identity play would have been to get the puck on net or get it in deep — it sets a precedent. Especially so when one of the team’s leaders does it. It says, this might be an easy game. Or we don’t need to do what got us this far. Or we can play this some other way. Or we can glide through the neutral zone in either direction. Whatever it says, I think it was a bad play that gave me a feeling bad things were coming.
4) And they were. Soon Marian Gaborik was missing nets. Wojtek Wolski was missing nets. Erik Christensen was making passes when he could have shot. Artem Anisimov tried a toe-drag move on a power play rush, 1-on-2, when he should have peeled off and set up the PP. Hell, even Brandon Prust, Brian Boyle and Ruslan Fedotenko were making “hope” passes around the net instead of hammering bad-angle shots at the kid goalie. And if anybody ought to know that bad-angle shots sometimes go in, and often if they don’t they at least create rebounds and scrambles around the goalmouth, it’s those three guys.
5) I’m slowly working my way down to the worst stuff. And the worst stuff is when your top two defensemen and your top two wingers (Gaborik and Dubinsky), in the infamous words of one George M. Steinbrenner, spit the bit. Marc Staal and Dan Girardi spit it big time. Wheeler went right around Staal with 20 seconds left in the first period and Henrik Lundqvist bailed him out. Later Girardi tossed the puck up the middle to Dustin (byfuglien) Byfuyglien, who ripped a shot that Lundqvist gloved. And on the clinching goal in the third period … which wasn’t entirely their fault … Staal got trapped pinching and Girardi failed to break up the 2-on-1 pass.
6) And it shouldn’t have been a 2-on-1 because Gaborik was in position to make it a 2-on-2 and didn’t. You could see this coming from the moment Atlanta got the puck past Staal. Gaborik, leaving the offensive zone, glided. Then he sped up. Then he slowed down. Then he sped up again and he couldn’t catch Eric Boulton — that’s right, the goon. Gaborik could have spotted him another 10-yard head start and caught him if he busted it. But he didn’t bust it. Girardi, who earlier broke up a 3-on-2 with his trademark slide, didn’t stop the pass this time. And Gaborik — who stunk in Game 82 last year — found his pants stapled to the bench for the rest of Game 81.
7) The first goal was worse. Sean Avery had a chance to clear and didn’t. That got the Rangers running around. Christensen had a chance to do something positive with the puck and didn’t. And soon it was in the net.
8) A 1-0 deficit wouldn’t have been so bad. But 15 seconds later, it was 2-0 when Blake Wheeler sent Andrew Ladd around Girardi, and inside of Staal, to beat Lundqvist on a break-in.
9) And how about Vinny Prospal taking the offensive-zone boarding penalty to negate a power play?
10) Starting to get the picture? This could have been worse than 3-0 and probably should have been more like the Islanders game. That’s how bad it was. John Tortorella was right. They “laid an egg.”
11) Matt Gilroy played a lot on defense late in the game. I think some of that might have been an attempt to get some offense. I think Steve Eminger was benched, or perhaps dinged up. And I’m wondering if somebody’s coming up today, maybe Kris Newbury, to take Ryan Callahan’s spot. Or maybe the captain checks in. Maybe Gilroy goes back on defense. I don’t know. If the top players don’t play a lot better, moves like these won’t matter a bit.
12) I just want to say byfuglien. And also Byfuglien=Monster.
13) My favorite parts of the Steven McDonald award ceremony: A) When they say that Adam Graves won it five times — that’s why his number is in the rafters, and there will never be another one like him; B) When Ryan Callahan came out on his crutches (I thought the place would be louder); C) When they announced the winner was Prust (well deserved); and D) seeing officer McDonald’s son, now a policeman … I remember him as a baby the first time officer McDonald presented the award.
AP Photo/Frank Franklin II, above.
For details about the Boneheads’ Picnic weekend, scroll down to yesterday afternoon’s post.