For the last seven years, and 10 of the last 11 seasons, the Rangers have earned a playoff spot. The run started in the 2005-06 season, when a clean-shaven Swedish goalie arrived and the roster was filled with players from the Czech Republic, led by Jaromir Jagr. The group included Martin Straka, Michal Rozsival, Petr Prucha, Martin Rucinsky, Petr Sykora, Marek Malik and Marcel Hossa.
Today, Henrik Lundqvist is the last man standing from that team, which was swept by the Devils in the first round.
He’ll still be around in April, win or lose, but this year’s edition of the Broadway Blueshirts is officially a squad in transition, one that is still within a few points of a wild-card spot, but one that is widely expected to shed some potential unrestricted free agents at the trade deadline and perhaps some more familiar faces in the summer as a re-tooling continues.
The next Czech to play regularly at Madison Square Garden will probably be Filip Chytil, the teenager who is making the transition from a first-round draft choice last June to regular shifts in the AHL.
Given the state of the Knicks as well, it could be the first time since the spring of 2005 that no Garden teams will host post-season games on Seventh Avenue. The Knicks got into the playoffs in 2003-04, but lost in the first round to another New Jersey team, the Nets. The Rangers didn’t qualify, extending their playoff-less string to seven campaigns. In 2004-05, the NHL season was wiped out by a lockout and the Knicks fell short.
On Wednesday, after returning from two more losses on the road, in Nashville and Dallas, the battered Rangers — with five regulars sidelined — hosted the Boston Bruins, who have dramatically moved in the opposite direction.
A year ago, Bruce Cassidy took over as head coach in Beantown and guided them to the playoffs, where they fell to the Ottawa Senators in six games. The Rangers suffered the same fate at the hands of the Senators in the next round.
But in the regular season under Cassidy, heading into Wednesday, the Bruins were third in wins (50), seventh in goals (255), second on the power play (24.0 percent), and second on the penalty-kill (83.5). Remarkably, at 32-11-8, the Bruins were just three points behind the Eastern Conference-leading Tampa Bay Lightning, with two games in hand.
Veterans Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, Tuukka Rask, David Krejci, Zdeno Chara and David Backes have all contributed, and youngsters such as Long Beach native Charlie McAvoy, Danton Heinen, David Pastrnak and Brandon Carlo have stepped up as well. They could also be buyers at the Feb. 26 trade deadline.
The Rangers, meanwhile, who had lost nine of 12 and rank 11th in the East, are in seller’s mode, but players appear determined that they are not going down without a fight, no matter who remains here through April.
It’s certainly possible that three unrestricted free agents — Rick Nash, who was asked to submit a list of teams to whom he would agree to be traded, speedster Michael Grabner, the winger who leads the team with 21 goals and defenseman Nick Holden — probably won’t be on the ice when the Rangers start a Western Canada road trip the day after the trade deadline and other familiar faces won’t be in training camp.
It’s a long way from 2005-06.