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Hartnett: Heart-On-Sleeve Mentality Will Carry Rangers Into Playoffs

More Than Talent, Desire Will Pave The Rangers' Path
Ryan Callahan and Brad Richards of the New York Rangers. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Ryan Callahan and Brad Richards of the New York Rangers. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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‘Rangers Inside And Out’
By Sean Hartnett
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Everything that could possibility go wrong went wrong for the New York Rangers on Tuesday night. The New York Islanders, Winnipeg Jets and Ottawa Senators all collected two points, while the Rangers valiantly pushed for a tying goal, to no avail, before Jacob Voracek’s empty-netter sealed the Philadelphia Flyers’ 4-2 victory over the Blueshirts.

That said, no one on the Rangers is hitting the panic button. They just happened to run into a very hot goalie.

Recently-acquired Flyers goalie Steve Mason was the difference-maker on Tuesday night as the Rangers nearly doubled Philadelphia in shots at a 40-to-22 clip. Despite the defeat, Rangers head coach John Tortorella was satisfied with effort his team put forth.

“We doubled them up in chances. First period, we had a lot of good chances. They only have two or three – they score two goals. I thought we kept on coming,” Tortorella said. “We just couldn’t solve Mason. We developed some offense, we couldn’t solve Mason.”

Like him or not, Tortorella is always a straight-shooter when it comes to questions about his team’s level of effort. If the Rangers lacked the fortitude required, he would call them out in front of the media as he’s had in previous instances this season.

Sometimes you run into a hot goalie. That’s hockey. Mason has been inspired since pulling on the Flyers’ orange and black uniform. In four games as a Flyer, Mason has been awfully difficult to beat as he’s registered a superb 1.82 goals against average.

The Rangers will have no problems locking up a playoff seed should they continue to generate high amounts of pressure, dominate zone time and puck possession, which allowed them to out-shoot the Flyers 17-to-4 in the third period.

Meanwhile, forward Brian Boyle suffered an apparent right leg injury that forced him out of the game at 14:03 of the first period. He did not return to the Rangers’ bench and was later wearing a knee brace in the visiting locker room of Wells Fargo Center.

At 6:41 of the third period, defenseman Michael Del Zotto took a puck to the mouth and was serenaded by hecklers with jeers of “Get up, you baby,” as well as other taunts from fans wearing orange and black that are entirely unprintable. The Rangers survived a scare as Del Zotto returned at 15:12 after receiving treatment in the locker room, though it forced Tortorella to juggle his defensive pairings to go along with him being forced to double shift Rick Nash due to Boyle’s injury.

Rangers Moving Forward After Tough Defeat In Philly

Whatever the case, this team will keep getting up and charging on. This team does not make excuses, they soldier on with the firm belief they can secure a playoff place. Question the collective talent of this team? Go ahead, be my guest. That’s entirely fair. Question their collective desire? That’s a different story altogether.

“Every game is a playoff game. We know that. It’s so tight battling for playoff spots. Every point is really important right now,” captain Ryan Callahan said. “We have to put this behind us and we have another huge game Thursday. You can’t dwell on it, you gotta move forward.”

Richards, Boyle Playing For Their Futures In New York

I’ve noticed two Rangers in particular constantly on the end of harsh criticism from fans for a perceived “lack of effort.” Both Boyle and assistant captain Brad Richards seem to always be the target.

Have they underachieved? Undoubtedly. Boyle’s five points in 38 games and -13 plus-minus isn’t an acceptable level of production, nor is Richards’ 23 points in 40 games. Richards is expected to be a near-point-per-game player.

Their long-term future with the team may be uncertain considering the need for the Rangers to clear cap space and the Rangers’ option to exercise an amnesty buyout should they desire to rid themselves of Richards in the summer.

For the moment, they’re both Rangers and they’re taking the responsibility of pulling on the Rangers sweater very seriously.

“It’s tough when you miss opportunities, for sure,” Richards stated.

After speaking the media, Richards was frustrated to the point that sat with his head in his hands in his locker stall before being consoled by teammate Ryan McDonagh.

Boyle was able to put weight on his right knee while wearing a knee brace after the game, though it is unclear what kind of injury he suffered as he favored his right leg before coming out of the game. It would take a lot of pain for Boyle to miss the Rangers’ home meeting with the Florida Panthers on Thursday.

UPDATE: The Rangers re-called winger Chris Kreider on Wednesday. This is the clearest indication that Boyle could be out against the Panthers at MSG. Kreider could also be leaned upon to jumpstart the Rangers’ power play, which struggled against the Flyers (0-for-5).

Boyle Deeply Affected By Boston Marathon Tragedy

It’s been an emotional couple days for the towering 6-foot-7 forward. Boyle slept through the Boston Marathon bombings to wake to a number of messages from friends and family informing him they were unharmed.

Overcome with emotion, the Hingham, Mass., native made the sign of the cross as images of the Boston Marathon flashed over the video board at Wells Fargo Center, while renowned singer Lauren Hart wound down her stunning rendition of “God Bless America.”

Boyle has always played with a great sense of purpose while representing not only the Rangers, but also those who helped him reach the NHL.

Toward the end of last season, Boyle stated his appreciation for playing in New York. “It’s a lot of fun to be a part of it for a number of reasons. It’s kind of surreal sometimes. I have to pinch myself. We’re fortunate to be here,” Boyle said.

Boyle and Richards aren’t just playing for the Rangers’ playoff future; they’re both playing for their futures in New York. It’s not a bad thing to have two players playing with that kind of motivation ahead of the playoffs.

To a man, this group understands what it means to be a Ranger. Whether it’s a player raised through the organization like Callahan or a new addition such as Ryane Clowe, they’re desperate to achieve success.

Sometimes that kind of spirit can take a team far beyond individual talents level as was the case when the Rangers came within an overtime of forcing a deciding Game 7 in last year’s Eastern Conference finals.

In eighth place with six games remaining and a game in hand over the ninth-place Jets, it would be difficult to imagine this determined group of Rangers missing out on the playoffs.

Could you see the Blueshirts locking up a playoff seed with six games remaining? Share your thoughts below and send your tweets to @HartnettHockey.