Hope Remains With Rangers

I feel like Andy Dufresne using the meaning of hope to tell Red of his plans to escape Shawshank Prison. Except I’m not trying to escape Shawshank Prison, I’m trying to escape the 2009-10 Rangers.

On Thursday night with under a minute left, Mike Sullivan drew up a play for the Rangers’ offensive-zone faceoff. The play ended with Erik Christensen giving a no-look pass to Chris Drury, who banged it home with 16.5 seconds left. John Tortorella celebrated like he just won a Showcase Showdown, and the Rangers went on to earn two points that they had to have.

The Rangers have made it hard to give up on them, and at the same time, they have made it equally hard to believe in them. They have let their playoff chances dwindle down to basically needing to run the table over the final weeks of the season. But whenever it comes time to pull the plug on them, they go out and win and prevent their magic number from completing its inevitable freefall.

The Rangers’ playoff push would have ended long ago if the Flyers or Bruins wanted it to. Instead, the Rangers’ main competition has slipped up as much as the Blueshirts themselves, and the Ranges are still breathing with eight games left. Barely breathing, but breathing nonetheless.

But like Red told Andy, “Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane.”

It was just three months ago that the New York Giants gave hope to their fans before pulling the rug out from underneath them. It was the Giants who made sure their playoff hopes lasted until the final weeks of the season before the Eagles and Panthers pounded them into submission. Now it’s the Rangers going down that same path. And the thought of coming close again just to fall at the last second is scarier than the look Frank Martin used to stare down his Kansas State players during overtime on Thursday night.

Was I surprised when the Rangers tied the game? No, because I have learned to expect the unexpected with this team. No lead is safe and no deficit is insurmountable. The Rangers have become as predictable as the weather forecast 23 days from now, and the only person crazier than someone who expects consistency out of this team is a person who bets on this team.

Every goal against the Rangers this season has seemed like three and every goal for has seemed like the only one they will score in the game. It’s not exactly the healthiest way to watch a team, but I continue to do so, thinking that just maybe they can win out or come close to winning out, and sneak into the playoffs. And the best-case scenario if this hope turns into reality? A meeting with Ovechkin and the Capitals in the first round of the playoffs. Not exactly the type of dream someone should be hoping for.

But here we are, eight games and 16 days away from the end of the season, and the Rangers have instilled the same hope the Giants instilled at the end of December. Mathematically, there is a chance the Rangers can make the postseason, but even if they take care of their own business, they will still need help from other sources, and in the end, winning their own games might not be enough.

It would have been easier if the Rangers finished the season like the 2008 Yankees. In 2008, the Yankees folded pre-flop, saving themselves and their fans from emotional heartache and disaster. I’d rather the Rangers went away like the 2008 Yankees rather than the 2008 Mets, who lasted all the way until the river before coming up short. But it’s the Rangers we’re talking about, and being led on and strung along is in their DNA. In all likelihood, the season will come down to the final weekend against the Flyers.

None of this would be possible without the play of Henrik Lundqvist, who has to be tired of being a Ranger, or at least tired of being a Ranger with this group of Rangers. Even with the Rangers defense letting the Devils play “rebound” against Lundqvist in the third period, King Henrik stopped breakaway after breakaway and a handful of odd-man rushes to keep the game from turning into a blowout.

Lundqvist might be the best-kept secret in the NHL. That might sound ridiculous considering he plays in New York on the biggest stage in the sports world, but he certainly isn’t recognized with the credit he deserves. Those who have the luxury of watching Lundqvist on a nightly basis understand just how good he is and how valuable he is to the Rangers. Casual hockey fans, on the other hand, might not know because no one on the Rangers is going to be winning the Vezina or Hart Trophy anytime soon. Those awards are saved for players on winning teams.

Without Lundqvist, the Rangers are a last-place team playing for the No. 1 pick in the 2010 draft rather than playing for a playoff berth. Put Lundqvist on the Red Wings last year and they win the Cup, not the Penguins. Put him on the Capitals this season and maybe Washington has five losses. With Henrik, the Rangers are on the postseason bubble – a place that has become their second home after MSG. Without him, MSG is home to two miserable franchises, not just one.

The reason to still believe in the Rangers is simple: playoff hockey. Postseason play has a way of making optimists out of pessimists. It’s enough to make someone believe that a 33-32-9 team can run the table over the final weeks of the season. It’s enough to not only make the idea of making the playoffs seem reasonable, but also the idea that the Rangers could get hot, ride a hot goalie in Lundqvist into the first round, and possibly even make it out of the first round. Thinking that the Rangers are capable of making the playoffs is insane enough. Thinking they might be able to do something if they get in is really just stupid. But hope will make people do stupid things, like think the Rangers can survive the Capitals in a seven-game series.

“Remember Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”

As long as the Rangers stay alive, there is hope that their season will last longer than 82 games.