New York Rangers’ season must not end in Game Six

Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports /

The New York Rangers are on the brink of elimination, a spot they’ve found themselves in on an annual basis. While in the past it felt fitting, this feels wrong. It can’t end like this.

As I type this article, I can’t help but think to myself that it should be about who the Rangers would rather face in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Pittsburgh Penguins or the Washington Capitals. Instead, I am writing about how the Rangers face elimination tonight.

Despite trailing for fewer than a period in this series, despite owning a far superior group of forwards and an all-world goaltender, the season could end tonight. Most importantly, despite leading with fewer than two minutes remaining in four of the five games thus far, the season could end tonight.

It’s not right.

While it’s difficult to complain when a team like the Carolina Hurricanes just want to make the playoffs or a team like the Washington Capitals just want to make the Eastern Conference Finals, this is about this year for New York. This is about this opportunity.

Though few recognize it while it’s happening, we have been spoiled as Rangers fans. The ultimate prize will always be the Stanley Cup Final, but outside of that, we’ve received everything fans could ask for. Perhaps that’s where the problem lies this year. We know what the Stanley Cup tastes like. We can see a path that leads to the Stanley Cup. The Eastern Conference Finals are right in front of us.

Tonight they can go from the likely to the impossible. Tonight the entire season can end. Mika Zibanejad’s overtime winner in the first round will be yet another memory in a failed post-season run. The consecutive shellackings of Ottawa in Games Three and Four will be nothing more than Wikipedia entries on the “2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs” page.

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Normally when the Rangers are facing elimination, it makes sense. Normally I have been able to accept it, knowing that whatever happened was justified. The 2013 Rangers didn’t have enough depth forwards. 2014 was the first trip to the Stanley Cup. It may have hurt, but how could anyone complain? 2015 the Lightning were simply better. 2016 the Rangers were simply bad.

This is not to say this year’s Rangers team should win the Stanley Cup. This is not to say this year’s Rangers team should even win the Eastern Conference Finals. However, this Rangers team has no business losing this series. This would be the most shameful series defeat in Henrik Lundqvist’s career.

Not because of Lundqvist himself, but because of how it happened. A Game One loss on a fluke goal. A Game Two loss on a meltdown led by Alain Vigneault and Marc Staal. Repeat for Game Five. The series could be over now in favor of the Rangers. The Rangers team that’s led for the majority of the series. The Rangers team that’s received scoring from all four lines, and strong play from everyone except for a few players.

This run cannot end at the hands of a Head Coach that fails to understand how experience and talent work (or don’t work) together, coupled with a team that once fired him. This run cannot end due to a series of late game meltdowns led by the worst players on the team.

Admittedly, I thought the Rangers would lose in the first round to the Montreal Canadiens. When the Rangers fell down 2-1 in the series, I thought they were toast again. However, this team possesses the depth and skill to overcome deficits and dominate when their backs are against the wall.

For two more games the team must show up and wiggle their way out of danger. Alain Vigneault must get out of the players’ way, and the players must respond accordingly. There has to be a giant mirror somewhere in Madison Square Garden that the Rangers can look into, realizing that they’re the better team.

For the next two games, everyone must play their best hockey. For the pride of the team, to avoid the shame of losing this series, and to be a round away from reaching the Stanley Cup Final once again.

Next: Addressing Alain Vigneault's weaknesses

So tonight could be the final puck drop at Madison Square Garden, or it can be a “see you later” until Game Three of the next round. If New York recognizes the opportunity they have here playing against an inferior team who stepped up at the times the Rangers failed to, Thursday night will feature a thrilling Game Seven.

May the best team win.