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Saturday, May 23, 2015

It'd be Bigger News if Lundqvist, Rangers had FAILED to Respond

   Since December, the New York Rangers have lost back-to-back games a total of 6 times, not including the most recent skid of Games 2 & 3 against Tampa Bay. That’s a stingy rate of “only” losing two games in a row about once per month. Not too shabby, eh?

   But what’s been more impressive is the immediate response to punting back-to-back contests. Unbelievably, in each of those 6 skids, Broadway has responded with a bounceback winning-streak of at least 3 wins. Every time.

   Well… the most recent 7th occurrence is still up in the air. New York would have to close out the series with victories in Games 5 & 6 to make it 7-for-7.

   So was anyone truly surprised that head coach Alain Vigneault bench-bossed a group of skaters Friday night that responded to 12 goals allowed in the previous 2 hours? Not to say the 5-1 win was a casual expectation, of course it always has elements of surprise… but how could anyone paying attention since Christmas have been “totally shocked?”

   This is what these 2015 Rangers do best: handle adversity. Stay the course. Respond. 

   There were injuries inviting track derailment, as with substantial absences from key performers such as Derek Stepan, Henrik Lundqvist, Ryan McDonagh, Kevin Klein, Mats Zuccarello, and Dan Boyle. And yet no factor could keep the squad from finishing the season with a league-best record (or more impressively an all-time franchise-best performance).

   Remember the questions on everyone’s mind last September? Pondering the potential of a platoon with a center depth chart of Stepan/Brassard/Hayes (a rookie whom was a natural winger prior to training camp)… despite last season’s success, the Rangers have time and time again proven themselves to invariable possess something very valuable in the quest of Stanley Cup conquest; resiliency.

   Need we mention the 3-1 series deficits of last month AND last year? In fact, the NY Rangers have won their last 3 playoff series when trailing 2-1 after Game 3. Yes, you read that correctly. The previous 3 instances of falling behind 2-1 in a series (’13 & ’15 vs Washington & ’14 vs Pittsburgh) all resulted in Rangers finding a way to respond with 3 wins in the following 4 games.

   Oh yeah… and that Henrik Lundqvist guy.

   Since Round 1 / Game 1 vs Ottawa in 2012, Lundqvist has played 32 playoff games following a playoff loss. Should anyone be surprised that in those 32 games following postseason defeat, Lundqvist has responded 20-12 with a .935 sv% & 1.87 GAA? Of course not. Madison Square Garden has hosted nearly a full decade of the Lundqvist era of Rangers hockey. Perhaps a fanbase spoiled with elite, pressure-thriving, immaculately consistent goaltending for 2.5 Presidential Terms could lose site of his character, total embodiment of the Blueshirts.

   Shame on anyone who took to a social media, forum or watercolor discussion seriously suggesting benching Lundqvist after the totally uncharacteristic outlier of Games 2 & 3. Vigneault’s scoffing of such question after Game 3’s 6-2 loss was a beautiful reminder he knows what he’s doing, he knows what he’s got, & he hasn’t taken Lundqvist for granted.

   I mean seriously… remember in 2005 when Yankees closer Mariano Rivera had a rough skid, blowing a handful of saves in a few allotment of regular season games? Totally freak skid when compared to his high-volume history of getting the job done, fans reacted with emotion and an unsettling disregard for logic or appreciation of variance. 

   As if the myriad of impatient Tri-State sports fans had never had a bad stretch of days at THEIR office. 

   Isn't it ironic that perhaps the best hockey team on the planet in terms of patiently cool, calm & collected responses is bound to play for a region of sports fans that are perhaps the exact opposite? 

   So… this is it. The Rangers ability to respond, react, adapt & re-mount the horse is what separates them from all the other teams. Late-game rallies in the regular season against Minnesota, New Jersey & NY Islanders were instant classics, but not isolated events. They were demonstrations of a team that battles back, that can regroup, that can prove to be a tough ember to snuff.

   Oh, and by the way, the Rangers are 6-0 this postseason when leading after 2 periods. Going back to the regular season it’s 42-0-1. 

   This team has the ability to push their way back into games, elevate their game in the face of losses or series deficits… AND yet never allow it to happen to them. Those are a couple of wonderful attributes to a hockey club, needing only 6 more wins to capture it all. 

   The Rangers responded after a pair of tough losses. Lundqvist couldn’t go more than 2 games without throwing in yet another elite performance. Vigneault laughed when asked if the team would have to restructure their franchise cornerstone in order to assimilate a response. 

   “Rangers respond”, “Lundqvist shines”, “Vigneault is good at coaching”. Yeah yeah yeah… move along folks, no surprising storyline to read about here.

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