There is always a state of emotion to overcome when your team's season comes to an end, whether it is after Game 82 of the regular season or after being eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Anguish is the word that comes to mind since saying good-bye to a team you've spent almost seven months following is like breaking up with a longtime companion. Along with the break-up often comes frustration and enmity because the one you are breaking up with likely did not meet your expectations or what you had hoped they would accomplish.
While watching the Rangers have their 2010-11 season terminated Saturday evening in Washington certainly was sad, it was not something many of us were angry about like we were after they failed to make the playoffs the prior season. That may have been because their fate was pretty much confirmed after the double overtime loss in Game 4, but I also think it was for another reason as well. A reason that, in years past, may not have been applicable to other Ranger squads we've watched come and go.
The Rangers were not expected to do very much damage in the NHL this season. Their roster was criticized from day one, many felt goaltender Henrik Lundqvist wouldn't be able to handle the workload that was coming his way and The Hockey News even went as far as to say that the Rangers would miss the playoffs for a second straight year and finish in thirteenth place in the Conference. So from an early stage, the bar was set considerably low for the New York Rangers going into the season.
On Saturday, October 9th, the Rangers gave everyone a preview of what was to come. A dominating 6-3 opening night win against the Buffalo Sabres, led by rookie Derek Stepan's hat trick, took many by surprise, including a majority of the team's own fans. But now, 86 games later, we can confidently say that was a vintage Ranger victory. Their battle and relentless work ethic found them controlling the puck for most of the night, in addition to getting contributions from key leaders and stellar input from their rookie players. Yes, a vintage ‘10-11 Ranger win indeed.
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The Rangers, from the start of training camp, did not have a highly skilled roster and their head coach will be the first one to tell you that. What they did have, though, was a commitment. A commitment to a system that would make up for the dearth of talent on the roster. This system required constant resilience, skating and battling. It wasn't pretty, but it was sure entertaining and also tough to play against as an opponent. Because of this ‘commitment', the Blueshirts were able to accomplish things this year that no one thought they would, including making it to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
When the commitment wasn't there, neither were the results. Such was the case in November's 5-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche, January's 4-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes, or March's 6-2 defeat at the hands of the Islanders. When the commitment was there, however, we were treated to gems such as the 8-2 win over Edmonton, the 7-2 win over the Islanders and the famous 7-0 drubbing of Washington back in December.
And for most of the season, the commitment was there, even in some of the losses. Very rarely did the team come up with discouraging defeats where we were left questioning their work ethic and overall dedication. This is astounding considering they were one of the youngest squads in the National Hockey League.
Through this they established a hard-working blue-collar identity around the league. This identity made us very proud to call ourselves fans of the team and made it a pleasure to watch them take the ice on a nightly basis. This was not always the case with Ranger teams of the past, where we would be left criticizing the same players after every game. No, instead, this year there was more applauding than there was bawling.
Just look back on all the players that we were constantly complimenting throughout the year. The Callahan-Dubinsky tandem was incredible. Marc Staal and Dan Girardi were lights out on defense. Brandon Prust and Brian Boyle, who each had a career season this year, were the team's most sacrificial players. Rookie defensemen Ryan McDonagh and Mike Sauer really came along nicely. Derek Stepan had an unbelievable freshman year on offense. Lundqvist was, well, Lundqvist. I know I am leaving some names out here, but the list is too long to write out.
The fact of the matter is, the Rangers put on a show this season, despite their numerous deficiencies, countless number of injuries and lack of talent, and a show that we will not soon forget. Almost every night they made us proud, and because of that we were honored to sport the team's colors. They brought dedication, will and heart to a whole new level. They earned everything they got this season, including our support, because they were one of the most hard-working groups I have ever watched, and also one of my favorite Ranger teams of all-time.
Now there's no questioning the fact that they need to bring in more talent in order to progress in the developmental process. However, looking at what they had available to them this season, they made the very most of it and surpassed all expectations set for them heading into the year. In my opinion, they revived the franchise after not making the playoffs a year ago. For that, we owe them a big thank you.
The Black-and-Blueshirts will never be forgotten and will always be in our hearts.