In the early stages of Wednesday’s 4-2 win over the Winnipeg Jets, the New York Rangers resembled the hockey club that struggled its way through the month of March with inconsistent play and many flaws to their game. In the second half of the tilt, however, the Rangers showed signs of the team that won seven straight back in November into December to take the League by surprise.
While that may have only been 30 minutes, it was 30 minutes of excellence and pleasing memories. It’s exactly how the Blueshirts will want to wrap up their final five games of the 2011-12 regular season before the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in April.
With the Rangers, especially while coached by John Tortorella, their success is determined by effort and commitment. It’s well known by now that they are no intimidating powerhouse as far as skill is concerned, so the ways in which they make up for that lack of talent will carry them far when the postseason rolls around.
This means hard backchecking, consistent forechecking, no careless turnovers in all three zones, exceptional goaltending and a whole lot of will to win. All of this, at some point, has been absent from the Rangers’ game over the course of the last month. Even in their last few games, despite being on a three-game winning streak, the commitment and effort have not always been there.
Example? Brandon Dubinsky’s idiotic slashing penalty immediately after going down 2-0 in the second period last night. And I’m not trying to single Dubi out here, but that decision is a perfect example of a lack of commitment.
To be completely fair, I’ll even pick on Henrik Lundqvist a bit here. It was evident that he was not as focused as he usually is prior to the last two games or so. Some of the goals that were getting by him were simply unacceptable from a goaltender of his caliber. That, too, was a lack of commitment.
The commitment from the entire team undoubtedly was missing through the first half of last night’s game in Winnipeg. Undisciplined penalties followed by some shoddy defensive play put the team in a hole before captain Ryan Callahan dug them out.
But, see, this is why I love the leadership on this team so much. Callahan singlehandedly changed the tone of that match on Wednesday. His teammates quickly jumped on his shoulders and they ended up scoring four unanswered goals to earn two humungous points in the standings.
These were the moments that made the first half of the season so memorable and enjoyable. The way in which the Rangers always found ways to rally around their teammates to produce a team effort that got them a win was marvelous. Earlier in the year there was no deficit the Rangers couldn’t recover from – none. We saw it all.
Unfortunately that stability and that excitement around the team went MIA for a long stretch of time, but finally made its return in the second half of last night’s win. And again, I realize it was only 30 minutes, but the Rangers now need to capture that 30 minutes and bottle it. Bottle it and run with it for the remainder of the regular season and into the playoffs.
If they can do that, there’s no telling just how far those thirty minutes can take them.