Originally written on The Rangers Tribune  |  Last updated 3/17/12

There were definitely some mixed emotions among the fans after Thursday night’s 5-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins at Madison Square Garden. Some were satisfied with the effort and just plainly admitted that the Rangers had lost to a better team. Others were rather disappointed at the end of the night, saying that the effort from the club could have and should have been much better.

Personally, I was disappointed not because the Rangers lost, but how they lost. Nothing makes a coach cringe more than turnovers and the Blueshirts had a boatload of them by the time the game was over. Against a highly skilled team, you know going in that you will get burned if you turn the puck over. Still, though, the Rangers fell guilty to this and made the win easier than it should’ve been for the Penguins. But that’s just my opinion.

However way you feel about the outcome, I think everyone can agree on one thing: that loss was a reality check for this Rangers team.

The Rangers have hit a roller coaster trend in recent months, with wins and losses mixed throughout the schedule. Throughout this period of time, they’ve admittedly lost their focus and veered away from the gameplan that has made them so successful this season. In addition to that, they’ve also experienced injuries to key players such as Ryan Callahan, Michael Del Zotto and just recently Henrik Lundqvist due to the flu.

But no matter what the lineup looked like or how the Rangers played on Thursday night, they were not the better team. As far as this season goes, they never will be the better team. The Pittsburgh Penguins, in my mind, are an absolute powerhouse that just needed some time to pick up steam. They’re healthy and rolling as they should right now, and I can promise you that the Rangers aren’t fazing them.

This was pretty well established before Thursday, but it was publicized nationally in that game, and obviously it opened some eyes in that Ranger locker room. This team has rode on a high all year long, and just two nights ago, I think, were brought back to reality.

One can argue that they hit a reality check much earlier when they started to play streaky, and I can see why. But even then, the Rangers still felt that they were the better team; they just weren’t executing as they should. They couldn’t use that excuse Thursday, though, because as stated earlier, they were far from being the better hockey club on that night.

But a reality check such as this in mid-March couldn’t have come at a better time.  I don’t want the Rangers feeling tremendously confident going into the playoffs, nor do I think John Tortorella does either. Don’t get me wrong, the team’s swagger has brought them very far as we’ve discussed in the past, but there is a significant difference between confident and overconfident. Overconfident will welcome you to a first round exit in the playoffs, which would be just downright embarrassing at this point.

The Rangers were exposed on Thursday. It became crystal clear that they need to see improvement on defense. Their back-up goalie Marty Biron has progressively lost his game and now he is just straight up struggling in each start. Offensively, the Blueshirts are a one-line team right now. And to boot, their shot-blocking system is knocking players out left and right. These were all ideas before Thursday, which was when they became facts. 

Now the team’s job is easy, though. They need to fix all of these repetitive mistakes and flaws and they have about a month to do so. Their keys to success and their keys to failure are right there in black-and-white thanks to the Penguins – a better team – exposing them on Thursday.

As upsetting as that 5-2 outcome was, it’s exactly what the team needs moving forward. And remember, the season series with Pittsburgh isn’t over yet.

Tonight’s response against a young team in the Colorado Avalanche will be very telling in where this season is going for the New York Rangers. I expect to see improvement, especially if some of the names listed above are returning from the sideline. Hopefully they don’t let us down. 

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