A couple short weeks ago, the New York Rangers played a whopper of a game at Madison Square Garden when they fell to the Philadelphia Flyers 6 - 0.
Every adjective from listless to pathetic was used to describe the Blueshirts effort, or lack thereof. Their head coach was pondering why the players simply, "don't care." And fans began clamoring for change from the General Manager down through the over-priced roster players.
But last night, a different team emerged. A team that was riding a 8 - 1 - 3 record and was slowly securing a playoff spot in the less-than-impressive Eastern Conference.
A team that was prepared and enthused to play their conference-leading rival, the New Jersey Devils.
New York started the game strong, with several opportunities and close calls and putting up a respectable 13 shots on net. But future Hall-of-Fame goaltender Martin Brodeur stood strong, as he has done throughout his career against the Rangers, and didn't allow a tally.
Where this may have shattered the Rangers ice-thin confidence throughout December, the Rangers came out even stronger in the second period. Production throughout all the lines kept the puck in New Jerseys end throughout much of the one-sided period. The culmination of this effort was a very questionable 5-on-3 against the Rangers in which Erik Christensen was called for roughing and Brandon Dubinsky called for slashing, simultaneously.
The result? An energetic and determined penalty kill led by Captain Chris Drury, Assistant Captain Ryan Callahan, and winger Chris Higgins. The Devils were held to just three shots and a total of 12 for the period. The Rangers continued to lay the rubber on Brodeur, with 18 shots; all of the hard-working, crash-the-crease variety.
And the action didn't stop in the third period or overtime as both goaltender exchanged miraculous saves as well as some help from their red-iron friends. Fans were left on the edge of their seats and whistles were held to a minimum.
It almost seemed like... an old-time hockey game.
And as Marian Gaborik slid a puck in the extra frame that glanced off the post and sat menacingly on the goal line before a New Jersey defender swiped it away, it was clear that the extra point was not going the Rangers way.
But the effort was first-class and deserved a much better fate.
Following a loss, most teams will look to "rebound." In the Rangers case, they need to stay the course and keep the effort going. If New York can replicate that effort, the Rangers will find themselves in the postseason. Good coaching is as much the ability to know when to change as when not to.
After last night, they should opt for the "not to."
The Rangers return to the 7th Avenue ice tomorrow in a matchup against the injured Ottawa Senators. Game time is 7 pm.