It is amazing how one loss can put previous success in such perspective. John Tortorella and the new-look Rangers seem to have what it takes to make noise in the playoffs, but the loss to Carolina on Monday night, a shutout no less, has me wondering if this team has what it takes to make the playoffs. Maybe its caused by being out of a playoff spot and sitting in 9th place, as the Rangers are, is enough to make even the most promising situations look impossibly bleak. Or maybe the hype of the new coach and the deadline additions were enough to make a three game winning streak against two last place teams and an ice cold team with a bad excuse for a goalie look much greater than it actually was.
Budaj. Danis. Fernandez. Mention those names to any casual fan and you will get a blank stare in return. This is no wonder considering the first two have backstopped their teams to 15th in their respective conferences and the third takes a back seat to exciting, unorthodox and spectacular started Tim Thomas. The fact that the Rangers scored four goals against two of them and six against the other should not become the equivalent of walking on water. But the fact that the Rangers haven't come close to such an above average offensive performance all season has made it such. And Rangers fans, myself included, are shouting to the hockey world that we are back. Really?
Throw us on the ice with a red-hot Hurricanes team who's goalie has been on and off but nothing short of spectacular when the switch is flipped. Apparently, he did not even need to be spectacular when the Rangers came to town and kept the puck out his net with ease while his teammates skated circles around their opponents. And that alone calls into question the validity of the 14 goals scored by the Rangers in 3 games and makes me wonder if they can beat a decent team whose goalie doesn't kick the puck into his own net.
Then again, maybe the stiffness of competition can be used to lessen the severity of a 3-0 loss. I am quick to point out what others refer to excuses but I look at as important factors that affect a hockey game. Carolina had scored 20 goals in their previous three games (topping the Rangers mark by six) and faced a Rangers team that was coming off a hard fought game with the conference leader the night before. That could explain the lack of performance on the part of the Rangers.
Of course to make the playoffs the Rangers are going to need to beat solid teams. They are scheduled to play Pittsburgh once, Carolina once, Montreal twice, Boston once, the Devils once and Philadelphia four times. Those are a lot of games against teams higher up in the standings. So making the playoffs will be no cakewalk and they will have to be able to beat solid teams on consecutive nights. If they don't it is going to be a really long summer.
The Rangers are going to have another shot at it. They are going to have to beat good teams 75% of the time and there is no better place or time to start than in Nashville on Thursday. They are going on the road to a team that had gotten points in 8 consecutive games before losing two straight. They will be battling with a team that is hanging on to the 8th seed in the western conference by a thread. If they play like they did in Raleigh, then all hope is lost, new coach or old. A win will erase any doubts created by that debacle, as wins will do. Part of me wants to completely forget the whole game and pretend like it never happened. But maybe I am a little late on this idea. After all, the Rangers Official Website has no video highlights or interviews from that night. Coincidence? I think not