On Tuesday, there were several possibilities for how the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings would look at the end of the night. The Rangers were in a position to take over possession of the eighth and final spot in the East (a k a the chance to lose to the Capitals in the first round), and also in a position to lose more ground on the Flyers, Canadiens and Bruins.
With Rangers-Canadiens, Bruins-Hurricanes, Flyers-Predators all on the same night, I envisioned the opportunity to start this story off by saying, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance?” Just six days after I questioned John Tortorella’s future with the team and compared his Rangers tenure with the men before him, he had a chance to erase the 1,598 words I used to question his job along with Glen Sather’s.
If the Rangers could take care of their own business and get some help from the Hurricanes and Predators, maybe Tortorella could have this team on a run to the playoffs that very few thought was possible. But all that talk of urgency the team spent preaching about during the week ended up just being talk.
On a night when the Rangers could have moved into eighth place and prevented the Canadiens from separating themselves from the pack even more, the Rangers put together one of their worst home performances of the season. But the four-point swing in the standings between the Rangers and Canadiens wasn’t the only bad news for the Blueshirts. It was just the tip of the iceberg.
After the Rangers were able to tie the game at 1, I flipped to the Bruins-Hurricanes game where Carolina had cut into the Boston’s lead and trailed just 2-1. Then I flipped to the Flyers-Predators where Nashville had a commanding 3-1 lead and a goal away from putting that game on ice. Things were quietly falling into place for the Rangers if they could score the next goal. But when the Canadiens took the lead against the Rangers on a garbage deflection of Artem Anisimov’s skate, everything began to fall apart at the same time across the league.
The Rangers lost, the Canadiens won, the Bruins won, the Flyers fought back to earn a point in a shootout loss and Game 70 of the Rangers’ season was used up. Maybe it wasn’t all bad. I guess the Flyers could have gotten two points instead of just one.
Here is what the standings looked like at 7 p.m. on Tuesday night:
6. Flyers, 76 pts
7. Canadiens, 76 pts
8. Bruins, 72 pts
9. Rangers, 71 pts
And here is what the bottom of the East looks like now:
6. Canadiens, 78 pts
7. Flyers, 77 pts
8. Bruins, 74 pts
9. Rangers, 71 pts
The Canadiens tried to give the Rangers the game on Tuesday and so did the refs with timely power-play opportunities handed to the Blueshirts, including man advantages at 11:20 and 19:05 of the third period. But the Rangers wanted no part of their power play, as they went 0-for-5 with the man advantage and recorded a total of two shots on the five chances.
The Rangers had to put a dent into their direct competition, but instead, they ran in place while their competition took off for the finish line. And while saying the right things might sound nice, it really doesn’t matter at this point. All that matters is getting two points at the end of the day, and for a team that talked about playing with a postseason mentality and a do-or-die mindset all week, they couldn’t have played with less desire against a team they are chasing.
“Every game is a Game Seven for us, no matter who we are playing,” Henrik Lundqvist said before Tuesday’s game. And Lundqvist is right. It’s just too bad he is the only one that plays like it. You could make a case for Sean Avery too after his last two games, but it took him nearly the entire season and a recent benching to wake up, and there aren’t enough games left for Tortorella to wake up the rest of the team by making examples of every player.
Lundqvist continues to stand on his head while his anemic offense tries to muster some shots and even sometimes a goal or two. He continues to play outstanding down the stretch, and is always there to field questions after the game whether the team wins or loses. He has yet to pull a Billy Wagner and throw his teammates under the bus for inconsistent play, but King Henrik is only human and at some point, you’d have to think that the last few years of carrying the team on his back will get to him.
No one expected the Rangers to run the table and climb to the top of the Eastern Conference standings, and it’s unfair to think that they will win every game over the final weeks of the season. But you’d like to think they would at least come to play at home against a team they are chasing. Then again, maybe it’s just wishful thinking asking for a team that is under .500 at home to start playing with a purpose in their own building with just four games remaining at MSG.
Is the Rangers’ season over? No. And wins over St. Louis on Thursday and Boston on Sunday will certainly enhance their playoff odds. But what have the Rangers done to make anyone believe in them down the stretch? With two wins in their last seven games and Sean Avery as their offense, the Rangers aren’t exactly deserving of a playoff berth, and maybe that’s for the better. Maybe finishing ninth instead of eighth will keep the Rangers from being dismantled by the Capitals in the first round and save the tri-state area further embarrassment from the Blueshirts.
Chris Drury referred to the Rangers’ losing ways as “immaturity” after being embarrassed by the Canadiens. “That’s what it’s been all year,” Drury said. “Simple answer.”
Hopefully the Rangers will respond to “immaturity” because they didn’t seem to understand “urgency” or “Game Seven” or “postseason mentality” or “do-or-die,” and there isn’t enough time left to try any other motivational phrases.