Last night at 7 p.m. I put on MSG and oddly enough the Rangers were playing the Canucks. I couldn’t believe it. The Rangers are still playing? Their season isn’t over? The 2015-16 Rangers are still a thing? I thought the Rangers were done? Luckily, I don’t listen to Larry Brooks or I would have been left watching hours of House Hunters courtesy of my girlfriend and DVR. Instead I got to watch the Rangers’ 3-2 overtime and comeback win over the Canucks.
The Rangers aren’t done. They are done when it comes to winning the Presidents’ Trophy again or being the the 1-seed in the East or winning the Met. They aren’t done when it comes to the only thing that matters: winning the whole effing thing. Do I think the Rangers are going to win the Stanley Cup? No, but I didn’t last year when they were the best team in the league for 82 games. I feel the same way I do about them every year: it’s hard to win the Stanley Cup. It’s so hard that it’s actually insane the Blackhawks have won three of the last six and it’s even more insane they might win it again this year. Like last year, the Eastern Conference is so deep that the Rangers could get knocked out in the first round or go to the Final.
But we’re a long way away from worrying about the Rangers’ first-round opponent or whether or not they will get back to where they were two years ago or revert back to where they were five and six years ago. There are still 36 games left to figure it all out, but most importantly, there are 36 games left for the Rangers to figure themselves out and figure the Capitals out.
On Nov. 3, the Rangers beat the Capitals 5-2 to improve to 8-2-2 on the season. It was their third straight win in what would be a nine-game win streak. At the time, I laughed at the idea that the Capitals would finally overcome the Rangers for the first time since 2010-11. After three straight postseason series losses and years of underachieving, I wasn’t worried that the Capitals would finally live up to their preseason hype and be the best of the East. Less than three weeks later, it all turned for the worse.
It’s actually scary to think the Rangers are third in the East in wins (25) and points (55) despite being four games under .500 over the last two months or half the season. The cushion they built with their nine-game win streak and 16-3-2 start has kept them from falling out of the playoff picture and jockeying for position for a wild-card spot. But the Rangers were never as good as their incredible 21-game start to the season when it seemed like they would never lose and they certainly aren’t as bad as their last 25 games when one-goal deficits felt like they did from 2008-2013. Fortunately, outside of the Capitals, no one else has played especially well or well enough to bury the Rangers for their 25-game sleepwalk and if the Rangers have to settle for the 2- or 3-seed in the Met and we get the inevitable Rangers-Islanders first-round matchup, that’s not such a bad thing.
In his overreaction piece, Brooks said:
The Rangers look slow. They look unsettled. They don’t look like a well-coached team. They look like a playoff-bubble team that will need Henrik Lundqvist to be at the height of his powers every night in order to have a chance to qualify for the playoffs.
He wasn’t saying this at the beginning of the season when the team couldn’t lose. If they play the way they did against the Islanders in a loss last week in Brooklyn, they’ll be fine. They’ll still need Henrik Lundqvist “to be at the height of his power every night” not only to get in the playoffs, but once they get there. We already knew that. We’ve known that since 2005. The 2015-16 Rangers aren’t the 2013-14 Rangers and they’re not the 2014-15 Rangers either, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Neither of those teams finished the job either.
When I went to Boston the day after Thanksgiving for the Rangers-Bruins Black Friday matinee, the Rangers were coming off a 5-1 loss to the Canadiens, but had still won 13 of their last 16. They blew the Black Friday game with some help from the officials and then lost the next day to the Flyers. In four days, the Rangers matched their loss total for the entire season and were outscored 12-4 in the three losses. Since that loss to the Canadiens, the Rangers are 9-13-3 with their last back-to-back wins coming on Nov. 21 and 23.
I thought the Rangers would turn it around when they beat Carolina on Nov. 30, but they didn’t. I thought they would turn it around when they beat Ottawa on Dec. 6, but they didn’t. I thought they would turn it around when they beat Edmonton on Dec. 15, but they didn’t. I thought they would turn it around when they beat Anaheim on Dec. 22 or when the finally beat Tampa Bay on Dec. 30. Nope and nope. And they didn’t turn it around after their wins over Dallas on Jan. 5 or Boston on Jan. 11 or Philadelphia on Jan. 16. It hasn’t happened. So I’m hopeful that Tuesday’s win over Vancouver will be the start of something.
Mats Zuccarello shot back at Brooks on Tuesday night when he said, “We’ve got to show that Zed’s not dead” after the Rangers’ win. The Rangers aren’t done. Far from it.