Its quite a challenge to remain cool, calm and collected as you watch your struggling team score a season high 6 goals. It is nigh impossible to not roam the streets of NYC screaming on the top of your lungs after your teams pounds their opponent, both physically and figuratively, after having won merely three games since the All Star Break. And it takes perfect self restraint not to believe that the New York Rangers have a darn good shot thanks to the addition of Head Coach John Tortorella.
The first win came against the Colorado Avalanche, the worst team in the Western Conference. The previous two losses, in which the Rangers displayed effort and aggression that has lain dormant for the last four months, came against The Florida Panthers (minus stud goalie Tomas Vokoun) and the lowly Leafs. The Rangers are supposed to dominate these teams, even if they have struggled against equally talented opponents in recent history. All that this game proves is that the Rangers know how to beat decent teams. Unfortunately, a quick peek at the remaining schedule makes it obvious that beating up on the lower echelon teams in the NHL is not going to be enough. Not even close.
The Bruins twice. The Flyers four times. The Canadians twice. The Devils once.
All of these teams occupy spots above the Rangers. They are teams that have been more successful than the Rangers over the course of the season, not to mention during the last month. This is not to mention the games against teams that are fighting tooth and nail to make the playoffs.
The Hurricanes twice. The Sabres once. The Penguins once.
In fact, only 3 of the last 18 games come against teams that failed to qualify for the 2008 playoffs. So much for beating up on poor teams.
What still provides hope is the changes brought in by the new head coach. Aside from the very noble, yet impractical careful stepping required in the locker room ( for those of you out of the loop, Google "Tortorella's logo rule"
, the Rangers have looked like a re-born team. They are much more aggressive and have created a boatload of scoring chances. This team doesn't have a natural scorer so the more scoring chances they get, the better the odds of a lesser player putting a much needed tally on the scoreboard. They also have played with heart, hustle and fire, elements that were missing during the tail end of the Renney regime. Gone is the bored and indifferent appearance, and here is the face of a team that wants success more than anything else. Perhaps this is what the Rangers need to make the playoffs. And if they do that and do so by beating all the powerful teams in the Eastern Conference, then counting on a first round exit is just a bit presumptuous, isn't it?
To make the playoffs, the Rangers are going to have to be better than good. They will have to do better than they have done all season long, the month of October included. Coming up is the true test of this team, and the true judgment of Tortorella and his system. The NHL is a pass/fail school. Getting a B during this final stretch won't be enough because 8 other teams are going to receive an A. It is do or die for this season. And while a playoff miss will still serve as a building block for the future, nobody wants to have a spring without the thrill of Stanley Cup Playoff hockey.