A reoccurring problem for the New York Rangers during the regular season, especially towards the final month, was the way in which they played down to their opponents. For example, one night they would completely dominate the Philadelphia Flyers, knowing that they would have to be at their best to take down one of the East's better teams. A few nights later, though, they might find themselves losing to the New York Islanders, or at least playing a tight game that required overtime to find a winner. Point being, they'd bring a better effort to the ice against a better team they knew they had to be near perfect against if they wanted the two points. But against teams lower than themselves in the standings - by lower I mean bottom seeds - they would match the level of that particular opponent instead of exceeding it as they were fully capable of doing.
This is what's truly hurting the Blueshirts in this quarterfinal series with the Ottawa Senators, which they are currently tied, 2-2, in with Game 5 on Saturday night at MSG.
The fact that the Rangers overachieved in the regular season is one that cannot be disputed. The expectations headed in did not have New York finishing anywhere near the top spot in the Eastern Conference, and rightly so. Their offense is not incredibly deep, their defense is young and most of the load was expected to fall on goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. So, yes, the team soaring to the top of not only the East, but the entire National Hockey League surely shocked many and could be deemed a product of overachievement.
But the truth of the matter is that as much as the Blueshirts may have defeated the odds and surprised, they were a still a very tough hockey team to play against and one that was highly regarded around the League. Their resilient work ethic, stellar shot-blocking and of course goaltending were all facortors that played into the team performing so well and garnering such high respect.
The question now is, where has all of that gone?
From the final ten minutes of Game 1 to Kyle Turris' overtime winner last night in Ottawa, the Rangers have not looked like that respectable hockey club we enjoyed watching so much earlier in the year. That resiliency that powered them has gone missing in action and they've been alarmingly outplayed because of that. This is a direct reflection on the team taking the opposite bench.
If the Rangers were going up against the Flyers right now, trust me, effort and resiliency would not be an issue. They would not be embarrassingly outplayed nor would they even be tied in this series because they've handed the opposition so much momentum.
The ironic thing here is that this is not due to the Rangers looking down on the Senators. Rather, it's because they are giving them too much credit and making excuses for this series being tied. Brian Boyle, following Wednesday's loss, made a comment along the lines of the team not being surprised that they are entering Game 5 tied since the Sens are very good.
Are you kidding?
First of all, Ottawa, too, overachieved this year, even more so than New York. They have very little star power with an average goaltender in net. They are a mediocre hockey club at best, yet the Rangers are not surprised this series is tied because they are "good".
As great as Boyle has been in this series, that was the most foolish thing that could've come out of his mouth. The gameplan going into this series for the Rangers should've been to win four straight games and move on. Instead, they are creating excuses for their lacking performance by giving the Senators more credit than they deserve, and now have to play at least six to make it to the semifinals.
The Rangers are the ones making this series closer than it should be, not the Senators, and that can change very quickly. Head coach John Tortorella needs his team to approach the remaining games of this series as if they were going up against the Flyers or the Bruins, and get them to play at the maximum level that they are capable of playing at.
What we've seen through four games here has nearly been the minimum, not the maximum. It's time to leave the Senators in the dust as they should've done in the opening tilt of this series.