What a great way to clinch! You want to talk about digging deep and showing the same kind of resolve this team has shown in being the best Eastern team since that deadline pickup of Paul Mara. Who would've ever believed a swap of Aaron Ward for the ex-Bruin would add up to 13-2-4 and 94 points with a game to go?
I'll admit that I was one of those outspoken critics who believed this team should sell at the deadline because I didn't think they had this in them. But all that changed on February 27th when ironically enough they beat the Canadiens to start this impressive run which saw them climb from out of nowhere to sixth in the East- clinching a second consecutive postseason berth with an equally impressive 3-1 win over those Habs in what was an electric atmosphere in the Rangers' final regular season home game.
I will say there's one thing I'll agree on with a buddy of mine Brian who lives out in Anaheim. This all really started with an unlikely late third period comeback against the Blues with JD in the house. It was a game they were badly outplayed in for the first 40 minutes. But somehow, when key pickup and the most underrated player (to hell with the whiny bitches who voted him overrated- they don't know jack) Sean Avery wristed one upstairs following a Karel Rachunek PP blast, they found themselves tied and in overtime. And it would go to a shootout and Jaromir Jagr would extend it before they pulled it out on one last Steve Valiquette save. Yes, the emergency backup helped turn the season around, setting the stage for that home-and-home sweep of the Islanders in a run which would see the Blueshirts lose only twice more in regulation.
I've never been happier to be wrong in my life. Tom Renney's staff and those players including invaluable ones like Thomas Pock (who has improved leaps and bounds), Jason Strudwick (thanks Jason for filling in for Fedor Tyutin who btw looked sharp in his return last night), Colton Orr, Ryan Hollweg, Blair Betts, deserving winner and Masterton candidate Steven McDonald AwardJed Ortmeyer, Avery and of course the two impressive recalls from Hartford Daniel Girardi (Ranger fan club ROY) and Ryan "All Hustle" Callahan.
It was also nice to see Renney realize his folly by putting Petr Prucha back in for Orr and what happened? Well, if you saw then it was only too fitting that the most underrated forward on this team ripped one from the right wing past Jaroslav Halak early setting the tone with No.21. Imagine if he hadn't been jerked around all year? That Czech who started out slowly might've made it back-to-back 30 goal seasons. Not bad for a guy who saw Brendan Shanahan take up a lot of his PP time and ice.
What I liked most about tonight's effort is you never got a sense the Canadiens could win. They got some help from the refs late to break up Henrik Lundqvist's shutout bid on Sheldon Souray's two-man advantage blast. And got a last minute chance thanks to Big Bird's boo boo dumping the puck in the stands to boos. He's a clutz. But he did score his second Thursday night and was steady before that mindboggling play. Still, I think most would say they could've done w/o that final frantic 73 seconds. But the penalty killers who hustled all night got in the lanes and blocked shots and made Lundqvist's night of 25 stops routine. Yeah, the King was good as he has been in helping turnaround his and the club's season. He's been brilliant for three months now.
Jaromir Jagr also stepped up and ripped home his 30th to make it 15th straight seasons with at least 30. He was setup by who else but top playmaking pivot Michael Nylander. Shanahan also notched a helper. It concluded a dominant shift for No.68 and Co. Nylander btw who we criticized last month has also played his best hockey down the stretch, setting a new career high with 26 goals in Tuesday's shootout loss to the Fishsticks. He has really stepped it up with JJ. In our book, as much as No.92 can drive us nuts at times with his circling and overpassing, he has earned a new contract. Look for him to be re-signed and continue to team with Jagr until the captain's deal runs out in 2009.
Dominating the action, when Marek Malik scores, you know it's your night. He took an Avery feed and then ripped one past Halak late in the second to pretty much seal it.
Though Souray would blast home No.26 to cut it to 3-1, the Blueshirts never stopped battling. Only the way it was called near the end where Habs were allowed to tackle our players made it interesting. But whatever.
The bottom line is they got the job done and made a statement. This team will not be pushed around by anyone and will take on all comers. Whether it's the Devils, Thrashers or even the Lightning, I don't care. If the Rangers continue to play the solid fundamental hockey they have with Henrik hot and Jagr and Nylander clicking and Shanahan regaining his touch and the underrated Matt Cullen meshing with Prucha and Callahan, then this team can give someone a run for their money.
In concluding, I must say Habs fans are diehard. They had about 30 there in one section with a Go Habs Go flag and chants. Those fans live, eat and breathe puck. Saturday night against Toronto on HNIC should be one hell of a game. And you know every Islander fan will be watching intently on the scoreboard as they take on the Flyers knowing their team is very much alive. Something tells me the Isles are going to make it. I don't know why. But if the Habs don't win that one outright, they'd only have 91 points. Two Isles wins against the Flyers and at the Devils would get them to 92. And yes, they'd be in. Go figure. You have to give credit to Ted Nolan.
As for the Rangers and the lame interview with Shanny and even lamer "We want the Cup" chants from some fans. Being that it's the first time in a decade this Original Six franchise has made the playoff consecutive years, let's first get a playoff win. Then go from there. The playoffs are nice after what's been an emotional rollercoaster ride. But they are only part of the goal. Let's remember that!
I want two points against Pittsburgh and I want that six seed. I want to finish as hot as possible. Let's go in with all the momentum and then let the chips fall where they may.
Enjoy the weekend!