One of my very close friends is a big Eagles fan. He's a little older than I am so he's seen a pretty epic rise and fall out of his favorite football team. One time he was talking to me about why he thought the Eagles had issues making it to the Super Bowl -- during their little NFC Championship only phase. He told me this (I'm paraphrasing slightly):
"When the Eagles have a chance to step on another team's throat in the playoffs they never take it. And whether it's not ending a game early or allowing another team to come back late they never kill them when they have the chance."
It's a somewhat grotesque explanation of the playoffs as a whole (not just for football) but it makes a lot of sense. When you have a chance to end a series early you need to take advantage of it. A year ago the Penguins had a chance to kill the Rangers in Game 5, they failed, and the Rangers marched through three elimination games to win the series in a decisive Game 7.
Desperation is a funny thing. It's almost like the flip of a coin. Does desperation help lift the team on the ropes to the next level, pushing them to a place they need to be to survive another night? Or does it expose critical flaws that allows the other team to take advantage and use it to end the series?
If you happen to be the team leading the series, you don't want to play that game more than you have to. I know there are a lot of people who talk about how momentum isn't really a factor in the playoffs, how it doesn't transition game over game, but I have always disagreed. End this series tonight and save yourself the headache. Lose tonight, and the Rangers will need to win a tough Game 6 on the road. Game 7? Who wants to think about that?
The Rangers have been really bad -- and I mean about as bad as they possibly can be -- at ending series early in recent memory. To the tune of sporting a 3-12 record when leading by a game in the playoffs. They came away from Game 4 adding another victory to that record, but it wasn't easy and it was damn close to another blown opportunity.
Those are the little things that add up. They might not weigh you down today, but they'll come back to haunt you eventually. And even if they don't, you played with fire when you didn't have to.
Coming out flat shouldn't be an issue for either side tonight, although I would have said the same about the Rangers before Game 4. Hopefully New York smells blood in the water and goes for the kill tonight.
If they don't, they might find themselves as the prey instead.