The Rangers’ comfort, if there can be comfort for anyone skating on a brink, is that their Madison Square Garden malaise is long gone. The way they have played there lately is their best reason to feel confident that after Tuesday night they, too, will not be long gone.
They are like anyone else who has had a rough day or a bad week in that everything seems better once you get through your own front door. At least that is their situation now, which is galaxies away from what it seemed like three weeks ago. The Garden was the source of their greatest angst, what with the fact they had lost six consecutive playoff games there, having been outscored 21-4.
But they reversed that jinx or those jitters just in time. They can be grateful for that, and maybe only that, as they face elimination in Game 6 against the Senators Tuesday.
“We’ve got to know we’ve had some good efforts at home. We’ve got to do it again to stay alive,” Dan Girardi said in Ottawa Saturday night, minutes after he blocked Kyle Turris’ shot, only to see the puck bounce right back to the Senators center, who shot it past Henrik Lundqvist for the overtime goal. Marc Staal said, “We’ve played our best hockey, coming home and being desperate.”
Three weeks ago, they were desperate to just get one win in Manhattan. Having entered the postseason with the worst regular-season home record among playoff teams, they were embarrassed by the visiting Canadiens in Game 3. The next day, Alain Vigneault cited the patience and persistence of Sergio Garcia, who ended a career-long major championship drought by winning the Masters.
On Garden ice since then, the Rangers have looked more like Tiger Woods in his prime. They have won four in a row, by an aggregate 13-4. Those are landslides in today’s NHL, considering that of the 62 playoff games this season before Sunday, 41 were decided by one goal.
“You know we went through a little segment here where we went through a tougher time in terms of results at home. But in a lot of those games, I felt we were playing good hockey,” Vigneault said Sunday on a conference call. “In the playoffs, we had that one game, coming back from Montreal, where we didn’t respond well. But we’ve always been a real good home team. Our mindset has got to be on the process and playing smart and playing hard and competing. That’s what we’re going to try to do in front of our home fans.”
No doubt the fans will be pumped, having absorbed criticism in Round 1 for having exuded as much noise as an art gallery’s clientele. Tuesday night, B-list celebrities will be supplanted by A-listers (side note: ardent Rangers fan Matt Harvey has not been seen on the big screen lately, so don’t blame his problems completely on hockey).
Whether everyone will leave in a good mood is uncertain, for two reasons: 1) There is no such thing as a sure thing in hockey; 2) The Senators are due to play one decent game in New York.
“I think we were just too tight there, a little too serious,” said Derick Brassard, who enjoyed the Garden and the city as much as anyone when he was a Ranger, long before he deflated his old team with the tying goal Saturday. “We’ve just got to go back and have fun. We’re just going there to play hockey, which is a lot of fun.”
The Rangers can tell you that sitting on the edge of elimination is no fun. But if you must confront the abyss, it is best if you can do it from the comfort of your own home.