For anyone who suffered along with the New York Rangers during their playoff dry spell from 1997 until 2005, it still seems unthinkable that the Rangers have become playoff mainstays.
But sure enough, with the Rangers’ 4-2 win over the Devils last night, the Rangers ensured themselves a trip to the playoffs for the sixth time in seven seasons since the lockout, with the sole exception of 2010’s heartbreaking shootout loss to the Flyers on the last day of the regular season.
Granted, the Rangers have yet to make the long playoff run that Madison Square Garden has been missing since their unexpected trip to the Eastern Conference Finals in 1997, but their consistency in making the playoffs is a stark contrast to their annual pre-lockout habit of being out of the top 8 in the conference when playoff time rolled around.
Following last night’s rollicking clincher over the Devils – their earliest clinch of a playoff spot since winning the Presidents Trophy in 1992 – it’s worth taking a look back at their clinchers over the past few years since the lockout.
2006 – With seven games remaining in the regular season, the Rangers secured their first playoff berth in nine years with a 3-2 shootout win at home over the Flyers. Thanks to the goaltending of Kevin Weekes, who got the start because of an injury to rookie Henrik Lundqvist, and the game-winner in the shootout from Petr Sykora, the Rangers were able to lock up a spot while taking a three point lead on Philadelphia for the Atlantic division title. Unfortunately for the Rangers, they ended up losing the division to the Flyers, settling for a 4/5 matchup with the Devils that would see them bow out in four games.
2007 – With only a couple of days remaining in the regular season, Jaromir Jagr’s 30th goal of the year and a rare tally by Marek Malik led the Rangers to a second-straight playoff appearance as they topped the Canadiens 3-1 at the Garden. Jagr reached the 30-goal mark for the 15th time in his career in the win. Later in the weekend, the Rangers clinched the sixth seed, setting up a first-round matchup with the Atlanta Thrashers that saw them get the sweep before a hard-fought six game defeat to Buffalo in the Eastern Conference semi-finals.
2008 – With two games remaining in the regular season, the Rangers locked up a spot for the third straight season with a 3-0 win at the Nassau Coliseum over the Islanders. Jagr scored two goals while Henrik Lundqvist posted his 10th shutout of the year in the win. The Rangers ended up playing the Devils on the last day of the regular season with both teams already ensured of playing each other in a 4/5 first round series. However, home ice advantage had not yet been determined and the Devils ended up getting it in the shootout. It didn’t matter much though, as the Rangers beat the Devils in five in the quarter-finals before losing to Pittsburgh in the next round.
2009 – After a roller coaster season that saw a great start go to waste, as well as the firing of head coach Tom Renney, the Rangers gutted out a grueling 2-1 win over the Flyers with only a couple of days remaining in the regular season to lock up their fourth straight playoff appearance. The Rangers built an early 2-0 lead but had to hold on thanks to a sparkling 37-save effort by Lundqvist. They ended up clinching the seventh seed and a date with the heavily favored Washington Capitals, only to blow a 3-1 lead in the series before losing in seven games.
2011 – On the next-to-last day of the season, the Rangers made the playoffs after a one-year absence, but not without a little help. Early in the day, they easily dispatched the offseason-bound Devils 5-2 at The Garden, and then it was time to gather around the TV that evening to watch the Tampa Bay Lightning play the Carolina Hurricanes. The Rangers needed a Hurricanes loss to get in, and sure enough, with nothing but pride on the line, the Lightning came out firing and easily dispatched the Hurricanes 6-2 to help send the Rangers back to the postseason. The Rangers drew the Capitals once again, but the result was equally as disappointing as two years earlier as they lost in five games – with two of the losses coming in overtime.
The trend with most of these clinches is obviously that most of them were in the final week of the season. This season has already been different for the Rangers, now they hope the end result will be as well.