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Keefe To The City: Rangers Rewind

(Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

(Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

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By Neil Keefe
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Every day when I first go on the Internet, I make the same stops: GMail, Twitter, Facebook, WFAN, ESPN, Barstool Sports and now I google “Charlie Sheen” to make sure I didn’t miss anything while I was sleeping. But we’re at the time of the year when the NHL standings become part of my daily “Things I Check When I First Go Online” routine. How much longer that lasts though, I’m not sure.

“It would have been easier if the Rangers finished the season like the 2008 Yankees. In 2008, the Yankees folded pre-flop, saving themselves and their fans from emotional heartache and disaster. I’d rather the Rangers went away like the 2008 Yankees rather than the 2008 Mets, who lasted all the way until the river before coming up short. But it’s the Rangers we’re talking about, and being led on and strung along is in their DNA. In all likelihood, the season will come down to the final weekend against the Flyers.”

I wrote that on WFAN.com on March 26 of last year. And here we are nearly a year later and I feel the same way. I feel the Rangers season slipping away, slowly and painfully … again. It almost feels like William Wallace being tortured at the end of “Braveheart” right before he’s beheaded. We’re just watching and waiting to see which opponent will be the one to raise the ax and put the final blow in the 2010-11 Rangers. Will it go all the way until the final game (like it did last April) against the Devils at the Garden on April 9? Will the Devils complete their historical run at a postseason berth on that Saturday afternoon at the Garden at the expense of their rival who would be completing an epic collapse? I sure hope not.

After starting the post-All-Star break portion of the season 2-7-0 (including 0-5-0 in the first five games), the Rangers looked like they had finally found something to build off of after beating the Hurricanes in a shootout on the road and then embarrassing the Capitals with a 6-0 rout in Washington. Returning home to MSG for three games against three teams (Tampa Bay, Buffalo and Minnesota) with playoff aspirations, it seemed like the Rangers were finally getting it together at the right time with home ice on the horizon for three games in five games.

So what happened over those three games? Nothing good. Not one thing. The Rangers went 0-3, were outscored 8-4, didn’t pick up a single point, fell to eighth place in the Eastern Conference and watched the Eastern Conference playoff bubble grow in size with Buffalo now trying to break down the door and Toronto making a stand down the stretch. And there’s still the Devils, who are acting like John Creasy in “Man on Fire” just getting shot time and time again, but healing in the Ramos’ family pool. What’s it going to take to finally put the Devils away? A car ride with the kidnappers in exchange for Pita Ramos? Fine. We can set that up.

As you can see, I’ve already hit the panic button. When the Wild scored their third goal on Thursday night, I smashed the “Break Glass and Pull Down Handle” cover on the late-season collapse alarm. Maybe if this was Detroit or Montreal or somewhere where teams find a way into the playoffs no matter how bad things look in March, then that would be one thing. But these are the Rangers. And not just the Rangers. These are the John Tortorella Rangers, who collapsed against the Capitals after holding a 3-1 series lead and broke down like Ronnie when Sammi went home at this same time last year. So why would anyone think this year would be different? Why would anyone want to trick themselves into thinking things would be different this year? I don’t advise buying into this team right now unless you like emotional distress and high blood pressure.

I’ve seen this movie before. I saw it a year ago when the Rangers worked their way out of the postseason picture, stumbled when it mattered and ended their consecutive postseason appearances streak at four. I watched the same movie come down to that final Sunday and watched Olli Jokinen (Glen Sather’s big late-season acquisition) try to slide the puck threw a five-hole that didn’t exist. I don’t want to watch that movie again. But I might not have a choice if the Blueshirts can’t find a way to win when they’re wearing blue, if the offense can’t find a way to score multiple goals in the same game and if the defense can’t make a lead stand up.

Thursday was as bad as it gets. The Rangers lost. The Hurricanes won. The Sabres got a point. The Maple Leafs won. I found out The Office is on hiatus until March 24 and Charlie Sheen didn’t conduct a single interview on TV or radio all day. It was depressing and made what Pia Toscano did on “American Idol” the night before not seem as enjoyable anymore.

I thought back to that quote about the me wishing the 2009-10 Rangers were the 2008 Yankees and had just gone away early on the in the season, so it would make the end of the year easy to cope with, and now I feel the same way about this Rangers team. You can just feel the season slipping away the same way it did a year ago. I’m not sure things can change with this team at this point in the season. According to Coolstandings.com, the Rangers have a 61.5 percent chance of making the postseason, but it doesn’t feel that way when you consider that last Saturday they had a 92 percent chance.

I went back and looked through everything I wrote about the Rangers last March to draw comparisons between the 2009-10 Rangers and the 2010-11 Rangers. I could have changed the dates and opponents of the games from last season to match this season and turned in those pieces again because that’s how much these two teams and these two seasons are alike. Instead I chose three things I wrote from three different columns to show the similarities and look at what’s wrong with these Rangers. The John Tortorella Rangers.

March 10, 2010
“This June will be 16 years since the Rangers’ last Stanley Cup celebration. The team has run out of ways to milk the memories of the 1993-94 team and run out of numbers to retire and players to recognize from the last Cup winner. After it looked like the franchise was headed in the right direction post-lockout, this season has set the Rangers back and erased any confidence Rangers fans had of returning to the finals in the near future.

“It doesn’t look like the organization will have any new memories to remember and relive with Glen Sather leading the way, as his time in New York continues to be an epic disaster despite his illustrious career in Edmonton. It might not be John Tortorella’s fault that the Rangers are in the position they’re in, but eventually he will take the fall for the team’s failures, not Sather. The same thing happened to Tortorella’s predecessor and the same thing will happen to his successor.”

If it were up to me, Glen Sather would have been gone a long time ago. But it’s up to James Dolan and making smart decisions when it comes to the Rangers isn’t exactly his forte. Glen Sather isn’t going anywhere. Not this year. Not next year. Not ever. There isn’t a goal he must reach or a level of production that he must keep in order to stay. He’s just going to stay no matter.

Now the same can’t be said for John Tortorella. It’s a lot easier for Dolan to have Sather fire the coach than it is for Dolan to fire Sather and the coach.

I understand that the Rangers are still in the postseason right now and that they control their own destiny and that they could win Friday and Sunday and be back on track. But if you fully believe in those things, the Mets are still trying to sell some season ticket packages you might be interested in purchasing.

Has Tortorella done enough to warrant his firing? I think the better question is “Has Tortorella done enough to not be fired?” And if you’re John Tortorella, you probably don’t want to hear my answer to that question. (I know Brian Monzo is shaking his head right now.)

If the Rangers miss the playoffs, Tortorella should be out. I understand the idea that you can’t be going through coaches like girls in the Smush Room, but a lot of coaches have done a lot less to get fired and maybe changing the culture at the top of this team will change this team. Or you can look at it from the Tom Coughlin standpoint and think that no matter how many late-season collapses a team endures, the current coach might be better than the other available options. I don’t think that’s the case here.

This is John Tortorella’s resume with the Rangers since taking over for Tom Renney:

2008-09: 7th in Eastern Conference (12-7-2). Lost 4-3 to Washington in Conference quarterfinals after having 3-1 lead.

2009-10: 9th in Eastern Conference (38-33-11). Missed a playoff berth on the final day of the season.

2010-11: TBD.

Now if the Rangers make the playoffs then Tortorella should stay even if they lose in the first round. Even if they are swept in the first round. Even if they blow a 3-0 series lead like the Bruins. If the Rangers make the playoffs, Tortorella should be back. I just need him to prove that he can reach the postseason with this team, and since that 2008-09 team wasn’t his all season, he still has to prove that.

Monzo asked me who I would want to replace Tortorella if he’s fired, and I told him I didn’t have an answer for that yet. I need to think about it, and I have plenty of time to. It might make for a good piece at the end of the year. I don’t want to write that piece, John. Don’t make me write it.

March 17, 2010
“Every game is a Game Seven for us, no matter who we are playing,” Henrik Lundqvist said before Tuesday’s game. And Lundqvist is right. It’s just too bad he is the only one that plays like it.

“Lundqvist continues to stand on his head while his anemic offense tries to muster some shots and even sometimes a goal or two. He has yet to pull a Billy Wagner and throw his teammates under the bus for inconsistent play, but King Henrik is only human and at some point, you’d have to think that the last few years of carrying the team on his back will get to him.”

I sometimes wonder how much Henrik Lundqvist hates being on the Rangers. Sure, he gets to live in New York and makes nearly $7 million a year, but I mean hockey-wise. How badly do you think Henrik Lundqvist wishes he was on a team that could score three goals in a game and not allow frequent odd-man rushes? Because we are now 16 games away from crossing off another season of Lundqvist’s prime and wasting another outstanding season of his career.

The problem with the Rangers is that they are unusually built. They have a good mix of forwards age-wise that have scoring pedigree, but only one proven scorer at the NHL level. On defense, they have a young core that is gaining experience and hopefully will grow together and be the best in the league for a while once they adapt to the NHL game. And then they have one of the best (the best in my mind) goalies in the league, in his prime. They are extremely unbalanced and are defined by their goaltender, who turned 29 this week, and will probably be on the wrong side of his career when the rest of the team figures it out and when Glen Sather figures out how to properly build a balanced team.

March 26, 2010
“I feel like Andy Dufresne using the meaning of hope to tell Red of his plans to escape Shawshank Prison. Except I’m not trying to escape Shawshank Prison, I’m trying to escape the 2009-10 Rangers.”

“The reason to still believe in the Rangers is simple: playoff hockey. Postseason play has a way of making optimists out of pessimists. It’s enough to not only make the idea of making the playoffs seem reasonable, but also the idea that the Rangers could get hot, ride a hot goalie in Lundqvist into the first round, and possibly even make it out of the first round. Thinking that the Rangers are capable of making the playoffs is insane enough. Thinking they might be able to do something if they get in is really just stupid.”

Playoff hockey is magical. I don’t even know how to describe it to someone who doesn’t understand it. Like I tried to describe Hoboken St. Patrick’s Day to a few of my friends in Boston and I couldn’t fully capture the magnitude of it. The best explanation I could do was, “It’s St. Patrick’s Day in South Boston on HGH.” I feel the same way about playoff hockey. I wouldn’t say it’s regular season hockey on HGH. It’s better than that. Maybe it’s regular season hockey on Charlie Sheen since apparently that’s a drug too.

I love playoff hockey. Love it. I really love overtime in the playoffs. (Side note: My dream when I was younger was to wake up for school in the morning and the game that I fell asleep during the previous night in overtime was still on in like the 12th overtime or whatever it would be at 7 a.m. It never happened though I’m still holding out hope.)

Right now every Rangers game is like the Gold Medal Game from the 2010 Olympics and they have this late-game mentality that I don’t think they want to have. The Rangers usually trail by a goal late and get a bunch of quality scoring chances, even hit a few posts and maybe a crossbar and win a bunch of offensive zone faceoffs with the goalie pulled to keep it interesting. But there’s never the storybook ending to regulation the way there was when Zach Parise tied it up last year. The Rangers just come close and fall short. They play hard until the final horn, but they don’t give away points in the NHL for that.

I wish I could escape the 2010-11 Rangers.

Follow Neil on Twitter at http://twitter.com/NeilKeefe



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