Okay, I'm back from my second of two trips now. I know, I know, PLAYOFFS! But first, let's talk about the home-and-home we went through with the boys from Philly to close out the regular season.
Thursday night, MSG, Rangers 2, Flyers 1 - In short, we stole this game. We played about 10 total minutes of solid hockey, we got very lucky on a non-whistle under a minute in, and we really played pretty flat for most of the game. We pretty much held on to kill off the entire final 25 minutes. But we DID kill it off, including a few obvious "sorry, Philly, we really botched that first play, here's a free power play or two" calls. I guess this is where the optimist says "good teams find a way to win"? But I can't shake the feeling we "got away with" this win.
Sunday night, Philly, Rangers 4, Flyers 3 - This game is why I'm happy. I was ready for us to lose, and I was ready to come here and blog "I'm OK with it, 'cause we didn't need the points, and we deserved to win." And then we DID win! The first period of this game was wide open and not terribly inspiring. Then, all of a sudden, we realized we should start playing playoff hockey. Despite being outscored in the second 1-0, we spent almost all of it in the Flyers' end. And we stayed there for the 3rd, finally getting our third consecutive response goal from Morris (Avery deflected it in) and our first lead off a beautiful move by Betts, which we kept through the end. After our practice went as badly as it did yesterday morning ("If you come here ready to practice, we'll get along fine!"), it was nice to prove that we *can* come up with the big play to win on the road, against a team that needed the win (by holding the Flyers back in regulation, we deprived them of home ice advantage against the Pens. You're welcome, Pens). It was exactly what we needed to show.
Specifically, I want to point out two guys. First is Blair Betts. Betts is a guy I've been liking from day 1. He is never considered a game star, and yet he is always making exactly the right decision. Hyphenated Concepts: At the beginning of March, I talked about Avery's take-it-to-them gameplay style as the antithesis to Rozsival's hang-around-and-see-what-happens style. If there's an antithesis to Rosie's stand-there-and-look-confused move, it's Betts's always-know-what-to-do. When Betts gets to the puck, moreso than anyone else on the ice, I am confident that he will put it in the smartest possible place, least likely to lead to a bad turnover, most likely to lead to sustained offensive pressure, every time. Blair Betts has spent 4 seasons being the unsung hero of the Rangers, so I'm singing him.
Also: Antropov, Antropov, Antropov. When he showed up, I was bitter that he wasn't Petr Prucha, and he didn't really impress me. He was big, and that was awesome, but he wasn't much more than big. He quickly changed that. These days, he is among the most consistent Rangers, constantly throwing his body around in the right places. Remember the goal he scored against the Habs last Tuesday? He went diving forward from practically the faceoff circles to get his stick to the puck before either of the Canadiens standing in the crease. That, to me, is representative of his tenure here now. He sacrifices himself, takes the body, and makes sure he has the puck. I thought he was a rental. Now I couldn't be happier with him, and I hope we can keep him long-term (Hint: I can think of 2 defensemen that are costing us quite a bit of salary cap. I hear that they wouldn't be costing us cap space if they played for the Atlantic Division-winning Hartford Wolf Pack).
More on other Rangers later, along with my best impression of a playoff preview, but these two guys really stood out last night, so I wanted to make sure that was covered.
So, all in all, we finish the season, for 3 games, against teams with as much or more to play for than we have, against teams even with or ahead of us in the standings, all in playoff contention, and we end up winning all 3 in regulation, scoring 9 goals. I'll take it. That wraps up the regular season. 43-30-9, for 95 points, and our fourth consecutive playoff berth since the lockout. Bring on the Caps! Let's Go Rangers!