If you think of the NHL season as a movie, this one’s not unfolding quite the way the New York Rangers thought it might when they settled in with their popcorn and barrel-sized drinks.
Sure, the opening scene was a grabber, and the middle act was great, but as they sit and contemplate their deadlocked playoff series with the Ottawa Senators – now down to a best-of-three – the challenge is banishing thoughts that they may be in for a down ending.
The top seed in the Eastern Conference has won as many games in this series as the eighth, but it has to hurt that the Rangers have given up leads in both their losses – this one could already be over.
“The frustration thing? If that word comes in – it just can’t. It’s four games, you wipe everything clean again, guys should feel it’s a great opportunity to step up in game five and have a good game and go from there,” Rangers centre Brad Richards said. “That’s the best thing about the playoffs, it’s day-to-day, no one looks at a whole season or a whole series.”
Taking in the broader perspective can make for grim reading, after all.
The regular-season conference champions have lost both overtime games they’ve played with Ottawa, just as they lost their overtime contests in a first-round exit against the Washington Capitals a year ago – in all, the New Yorkers have dropped their last seven playoff overtime games.
They also haven’t won two consecutive playoff games since 2009.
As the old saying goes, if they could figure out what was wrong, they would have fixed it by now.
Rangers captain Ryan Callahan suggested winning in the playoffs comes down to managing momentum swings: “There are swings in every game, the teams that can control them or at least keep their composure tend to do well.”
Fair enough, but winning teams also generally get bigger contributions from their star players than the Rangers have had to this point.
Forty-goal man Marian Gaborik, who has scored just once in the series, was demoted from the top line at a practice where head coach John Tortorella seemed particularly annoyed with his team, interrupting several drills to explain a few home truths.
Then again, this hasn’t been a series for the offensive stars – Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson has only one goal, and Jason Spezza, who finished among the top-five scorers in the regular season, has just two assists (as timely as they may have been, that’s not stellar production).
“I can’t say I want to see the guys try more or want it more. We want to win, we want to get the third goal and the fourth goal … but you have to realize they have 20 guys over there who are pretty good players and they’re trying to do the same thing,” said Richards, who also has only one goal. “It’s that type of series, it’s low-scoring, it’s just the way it is, goals have been hard to come by. I don’t think it’s frustrating because you’re in every game.”
The series’ crescendo may still be some ways off, although the Senators will be hampered in Game 5 at Madison Square Garden on Saturday, by the continued absence of captain Daniel Alfredsson, who was sidelined with a concussion after he was elbowed by New York’s Carl Hagelin.
Alfredsson and winger Jesse Winchester didn’t make the trip to New York, although junior scoring star Mark Stone, a 2010 draft pick who has yet to make his NHL debut, did.