Particularly in this economy, it’s hard to feel good about anybody losing their job. But it’s probably safe to say that had the Rangers not fired coach Tom Renney on February 23, they wouldn’t be in the playoffs today. But they did fire Renney, and after beating the Flyers 2–1 last night, they did indeed clinch a playoff berth. Not that making the playoffs is much of an accomplishment in the NHL — after all, more teams make it than don’t — but after missing the playoffs in seven straight seasons, it’s their fourth postseason appearance in a row, something only the Giants can currently lay claim to in this town.
New coach John Tortorella doesn’t deserve all the credit, of course. (As has been their custom the last few years, the Rangers were energized by Sean Avery just in time to make a playoff push, this time along with other reinforcements.) But Tortorella did get them to play a more aggressive, up-tempo style, whereas Renney had them playing a defensive system in which they weren’t quite good enough defensively to succeed.
If they’re to have any success in the postseason, the last two games were a blueprint: Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist stood on his head; captain Chris Drury (and his reputation for being clutch) came through, not just with intangibles, but with actual points; and Avery — who was neutralized in the second round of the playoffs in each of the last two years — was more of a hard-nosed hockey player and less of a clown. And then there’s the most important development from last night: After blocking a shot in the second period, Paul Mara — and Paul Mara’s playoff-ready beard — returned, seemingly unhurt.