As Henrik Lundqvist made ridiculous save after ridiculous save in yesterday’s do-or-die season finale against Philadelphia, the game started to feel a bit like last year’s opening-round game seven against Washington. In that game, the Rangers improbably found themselves a goal away from winning a series they really had no business winning, just like yesterday they found themselves a goal away from earning a spot in a postseason they really had no business participating in. The Rangers had played such mediocre hockey for so much of the season, and yesterday the ice was tilted in Philadelphia’s favor all day long. Yet there they were, keeping the score tied through regulation, and then through the four-on-four overtime they’ve been so bad in this year.
Hockey purists surely died a little inside when the buzzer sounded with the score 1–1 at the end of overtime, meaning a playoff berth would be determined by a shootout. But we’re confident in saying that the better team made the playoffs yesterday, no matter how they were required to do it. The Rangers, as well as they’ve been playing, have been reduced to relying on their fourth line for offense — Artem Anisimov scoring would be one thing, but Brandon Prust and Jody Shelley is another — and when that production inevitably ended, things would have gotten ugly against Washington.
The Rangers now have plenty of time to ask themselves “what if?” As in, what if Ryan Callahan weren’t hurt, and Anisimov wasn’t killing penalties in his place? Would the Flyers have capitalized on a neutral-zone turnover and scored their lone regulation goal? What if Marian Gaborik found a hole on his scoring chance in an otherwise conservative overtime? What if Sean Avery were able to play in this game? What if this team didn’t go through that brutal three-game stretch last month, culminating in that loss in Boston? Or, to take it a step further, what if they played half as well in the middle of the season as they did in its first and last weeks? They’ve got plenty of time to wonder about these things now — more than they’ve had since those dark pre-lockout years.