The last set of a long, hard workout is always the hardest. After minutes of breaking down muscle, your entire body is ready to quit. Faced with a choice of doing it well or copping out, lesser men often take the latter option. The easy way out. But looking back, the last set more often than not determines if the entire workout was a success or failure. It builds muscle, yes, but it also build character and mental toughness.
The last set is here. 4 games. Its possible that all four of those need to be wins. If the Rangers don't do what is necessary, don't pull it off, then the entire season is a complete, utter waste.
Excuses are easy to come by. The team is not built to win easily. Every game required a tremendous amount of effort. The grueling, physical style played by this team takes a big toll over the course of a season. So they are tired, physically and mentally. Even more so as they hit a big bump in the road this late in the year.
You may not want to define this team by a 5 or 8 game stretch. You may say that they played a good, maybe great season, with the resources they had available.
But that is not true.
Because if the Rangers don't make the playoffs, it will reveal the true character of the team. Forget the devastating effect it will have on the confidence of this team. Forget the distinct possibility of finding Lundqvist in an alleyway with a self inflicted gunshot wound. The biggest problem will be that these players don't have it.
"It" is undefinable, but we all recognize it when we see it. When the going gets tough, the people who have it remain standing and the rest fall into oblivion.
Too many times this franchise has been missing that factor. But it would be foolish to characterize the organization in this fashion. After all, the only player left from the 2005-06 season is Henrik Lundqvist. But with the young core of this team mostly present, with a couple of notable exceptions, it is important that the future has it. Or we are going to endure a whole lot more disappointment and frustration.
It is gut check time for this club. They don't need someone to step up. They need everyone to step up. Talk the talk all you want. Say how important every game is, how you need the points, how you are ready to play. But when the puck drops, be ready to back that up. The schedule gets no easier. The team chasing them gets no colder. Destiny still rests in their hands. So they better take it.
Or go home.
For a long, long time.