Awkward? - (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Last season was the first since the lockout in which the New York Rangers missed out on the Stanley Cup Playoffs. This season was close to becoming the second until the miracle that Saturday was came along and helped the Blueshirts clinch the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. It was a long and rigorous road here, but after waiting for an entire year, the Rangers are back where they belong.
The Rangers have been a playoff team ever since the lockout, but they have been a different style playoff team in each of those years. You had the European Era led by Jaromir Jagr in 2006-07 when they were eliminated by the Buffalo Sabres in the Conference Semifinals. The following season that same team, with the additions of Chris Drury and Scott Gomez, once again made it to the semifinals when this time the Pittsburgh Penguins ousted them.
That would be the last time ex-coach Tom Renney and his defensive approach would bring the Rangers into the playoffs, as John Tortorella was then the man behind the bench to revive the club and get them into the postseason the next year in 2008-09. Torts did this by introducing the jaded roster to a new up-tempo offensive system, which brought about more scoring and overall success. The Rangers, after collapsing on a three-games to one advantage in the series, were forced to a game seven where they were downed by the Capitals.
This time around, in 2010-11, I feel this team is very different compared to the ones that have made the playoffs in previous years. The current Ranger club has a definitive identity to it that they have become well respected for around the National Hockey League. They may not have the talent that the European-centered squads did back in 2006-2008, but I think they have more heart, more focus and more desire.
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They didn't get into the playoffs by playing any style of game they needed to on a particular night in order to get points. They instead stuck with a gameplan and made it work all the way through game 82. Out of all those playoff teams listed above, this year's is the most deserving of the honor in my opinion.
The ending to the regular season, with the organization and fan base left hanging until about 9:30 p.m. Saturday night to find out their fate, was a very appropriate way for this team to officially clinch a playoff berth. It's been a struggle all year long with emotions constantly swaying in all different directions, but the team has always been able to overcome adversity and in the end got what they deserved.
I've said it before and I will say it again; the Rangers deserve to be in the playoffs this year because, as mentioned above, they earned it. They earned it more this year than they have in any of those post-lockout years. The 2010-11 New York Rangers were the most determined and resilient group of players to don the Blueshirt that we have witnessed in a long time.
They've earned the right to be here, more than the Carolina Hurricanes, and maybe even more so than some of the team that finished ahead of them in the standings. Playoff hockey is all about battling, consistent effort and the power of will. All of those traits are major characteristics of this year's Blueshirts, and that is why this - the Stanley Cup Playoffs - is where they belong.