I’ll spare you the gory details of how last season ended for the New York Rangers. In spite of a run that, at times, made them feel like a team of destiny, they fell in the Stanley Cup Final to the Los Angeles Kings.
Anyone who thought that was the end for this Rangers team was mightily surprised this year. These Rangers flew through the regular season, winning the Presidents’ Trophy despite losing several key players like Henrik Lundqvist for extended lengths of time.
As the Rangers began the playoffs, they started using warmup t-shirts with the slogan “Barkin’ Change the Ending!” on them. According to Pat Leonard of the NY Daily News, the word “barkin'” was used by players to describe players jumping up to join the rush:
“Barkin’” is a less obvious statement, but captain Ryan McDonagh said it’s a term the players sometimes jokingly use on the ice.
McDonagh said earlier in the year, for example, whenever defenseman Kevin Klein would jump into the rush, the Rangers would say “Kleiner was barking up the ice.” – NY Daily News
If the slogan starts off light-hearted, it moves right into a call to action. The message here is clear: last year may have been a great ride, but much like the movie “Titanic”, the ending sucked. This year needs to be different. And given that this team will have precious little cap room, few prospects, and no first round draft picks until 2017, their Stanley Cup window is closing fast.
— John Rosasco (@JRNYR) April 16, 2015
With one playoff series in the books, do the Rangers look like they are ready to, well, change the ending this year? Their series against the Pittsburgh Penguins showed some of the same difficulties that last year’s team encountered. Against a team that was decimated by injuries and struggled just to make the playoffs, the Rangers seemed to slow down and let parts of the game get away from them.
At times it was reminiscent of the Rangers’ first round series last season against the Philadelphia Flyers. The Rangers were the better team there, but never really pulled away. They consistently allowed the Flyers to come back and had to play a nearly perfect game seven to win the series.
This year, history seemed to be repeating itself. After a game one victory, the Rangers continued their habit of losing game two’s. In the second game, the Rangers were consistently the slower team, and looked utterly unprepared to raise the level of their game. Then they went back to their home-away-from-home, Consol Energy Center.
Two straight 2-1 victories later, the Blueshirts found themselves up three games to one and heading back to MSG. And that’s where this team changed the ending. Though their game was, again, far from flawless, this year’s Rangers brought something new to the table: killer instinct. They raised the level of their game against a truly desperate team, and Carl Hagelin scored in OT to close out the series in five games–something last year’s team could not do. Every Rangers series victory since their 4-1 win against the New Jersey Devils in the first round of 2008 had taken at least six games. Change the ending, indeed.
While it’s hard to look at one series and predict this year’s results, the signs are there that this year’s team will be able to win games in any number of ways. When the Penguins shut down the quick breakout passes that Alain Vigneault’s team loves so much, they adapted and played a grind-it-out style. While it made for low-scoring, plodding (some might say boring) hockey, it still got the job done. In the playoffs, that’s all that matters.
With recent news that spark-plug Mats Zuccarello is out indefinitely (he took a Ryan McDonagh slap shot to the side of his helmet in game five), it looks as though the Rangers will need to overcome more adversity if they are to move on. They will be getting defensive help, though. Kevin Klein, who suffered a broken arm blocking an Alex Ovechkin shot, has been confirmed for the first game of round two.
If the first round is any indication, this year will be one hell of a ride. Bring on Ovi and the rest of the Washington Capitals.
Kevin has been covering the Florida Panthers and New York Rangers for The Hockey Writers since the 2013-14 season. Before that, he has written about, played, and coached hockey at all levels. He grew up a Rangers fan in the Southern Tier of New York State, but now lives in the Atlanta area with his wife and two sons. You can reach him on Twitter as @kmizTHW , or via email (firstname.lastname@example.org).