So does it hurt any less the morning after? A little.
The Rangers have shown guts and heart like I haven't seen from a Rangers squad in almost 20 years, and I say that despite how old it makes me sound. The grit and determination of my boys last night, and for the previous 3 games has been unmatchable, even though they are now down 3-1 and looking at a likely quick exit from the first round. But had the events of last night not happened as they did, and had The Broadway Blues gone 30-0 with a lead heading into the third period, it would have only been delaying the inevitable, with or without Ryan Callahan.
Some tactical observations from last night game should show why it was that the Rangers simply never had it in them to win the game the same way that a high school basketball team could play the Lakers a thousand times and lose each and every single one of those games. First of all, although I dismissed the absence of Ryan Callahan, another fresh grinder would help, especially one who potted almost 30 goals this year. But I digress.
First thing I noticed was a lack of discipline in the blue shirted skaters. No, I'm not talking about the penalties they took, because they weren't undisciplined in regard to how often they felt shame, but they were very undisciplined on the forecheck. The forecheck is this teams bread and butter and if it doesn't work, they can't win. Too many times, especially as the clock started approaching 10PM Eastern Standard Time, Ranger skaters would put themselves in an offside position, forcing a total regroup at the offensive blue line in order to begin their pressure again. This enabled the Caps to get far too many easy breakouts. To me, this is just a sign of tired minds and tired legs.
The second thing I noticed was also forecheck related, and really showed the gap in quality between the two squads. Once the third period collapse took place, the Rangers decided they needed to go back on the attack, and they did. However the Ranger attack was a matter of gain the zone on the wall, dump the puck behind the net or in the corner, and grind it out. Too many times their tired legs were no match for the Caps back liners. Again, this was the fatigue that caught up with the team once the puck dropped in the third. It wasn't only evident on the defensive end, but in the attack as well. On the other side, the Caps employed a similar strategy when the puck carrier was not named Alexander. Semin and Ovechkin remained free to work their magic, but when anyone else had the puck, it went to the net, not behind it, as did the weak side skater. This tactic led directly to the game winning goal. A shot towards the net was blocked, and in a cruel ironic twist, Marian Gaborik's back check and hustle was a little too exuberant, and the Caps had a 3-1 lead handed to them on an icy blue platter.
The third thing i noticed was a real lack of an explosive force wearing a blue shirt. Marian Gaborik was brought in to be that force, and he was last season. This season however, he just seemed to not have that extra push he needs to make him one of the NHL's elite scorers. Alexander Frolov was brought in over the summer to be that secondary threat, and even had he not suffered the season ending knee injury, the promises he made were never going to be fulfilled. It also shouldn't be a surprise that Marian himself wasn't this year. It was only October when Colby Armstrong of the Toronto Maple Leafs essentially ended any hope of the Rangers being a contender this year when he plastered Gaborik from behind into the 8th Avenue corner of MSG. Gaborik was out for weeks with a shoulder injury that no one should be surprised may require surgery in the offseason. What else could explain how a perennial 40 goal scorer managed a measly half of that this term.
The team is in desperate need of real secondary scoring next year, and although the talk around town has been Brad Richards, who could be squeezed in under the cap, he is more of a set up man than a scorer. Remember the last set up man we threw lots of dollars at? He's helping the Canadiens dismantle the Bruins now, and I think Richards will be the same type of player. The untimely death of Alexei Cherapanov now hangs like a black cloud over this club, as he was drafted to be that scorer. Most of our other picks have been valuable secondary parts to a machine thats lacking a real first gear. In my mind, only a trade for a bonafide superstar scorer can fix what ails this team, but the pickins are slim unless the Rangers are willing to part with part of their young defensive core that they've been slowly building. Even if we were to look at the notoriously defensive Stanley Cup winning Devils squads, there was always more than one offensive threat.
This team simply can't be expected to make much noise in the playoffs as is, even in the parity of the Eastern Conference. But the news isn't all bad Rangers fans, because they really are just one or two pieces away from being a real contender in this new NHL. The Rangers have the best goaltender in the East behind Ryan Miller. They have a youthful core filled with leaders like Staal, Dubinsky, and who certainly will be the next Ranger captain Ryan Callahan. They have a young backline that is the envy of many teams with players who have grown over the last few seasons like Girardi and Staal, and newcomers who have filled in wonderfully from our Devil-esque farm team like McDonagh and Sauer. they have tough grinders, who will do anything for the team like Prust, Avery, and Boyle. With Vaclav Prospal and Ruslan Fedetenko getting a little older, these secondary players will need to be replaced, but with the addition of a real scorer to compliment Gaborik and give the Rangers a second threat, and a powerplay, they can be pushed over the edge of goodness. Lets hope Glenn Sather is listening.