Dan Girardi (5) and Vaclav Prospal (20) of the New York Rangers celebrate Prospal's goal at 10:49 of the third period against the New Jersey Devils at Madison Square Garden on April 9, 2011 in New York City. The Rangers defeated the Devils 5-2. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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I would bet my bottom dollar you didn't predict the NHL playoffs to shake up like this.
The New York Rangers somehow found a way to sneak into the NHL playoffs, going through the hated New Jersey Devils to do it. After a 5-2 rout of the Devils at Madison Square Garden the Rangers were up by two points with Carolina holding an all too familiar game in hand.
The Rangers had done their part, now all they needed was some help.
They got that help from the Tampa Bay Lightning, who manhandled the Hurricanes at Carolina to send the Rangers into the playoffs through the back door. It's the Rangers first time back in the playoffs since they missed them lats year, and this frantic finish certainly makes up for last year's heartbreaking shootout miss that cost the Rangers a playoff spot.
The eighth-seeded Rangers will be going up against the big bad Washington Capitals, a tough matchup for sure. But for now, Rangers nation will rejoice the fact that they won't have to see their team on the golf course. At least for another few weeks.
Yes, Alexander Ovechkin's looming shadow throws some very serious reality into the drunken humor that Ranger fans currently find themselves in. But at the end of the day, can you imagine a more dangerous team heading into the playoffs? The Rangers just downed the Devils, in a huge gut-check game, then watched their fate get decided on a game they weren't able to play in.
Call me crazy, but I don't think they ever want to be in that kind of a situation again. The Rangers once again control their own destiny, which must be nice after watching Carolina surge back to a two-goal deficit before getting blown away by the Lightning. Not one player on New York wants to be in that situation again. Hopefully that fuels their fire come game time.
These two foes aren't new to one another. The two teams battled it out in a fantastic seven-game series back in 2009, with the Rangers blowing a 3-1 series lead and losing 2-1 in Washington in the decisive game of the series. It was a heartbreaking loss, and the Rangers certainly don't want to end up like that again.
But there are few comparisons to that 2009 team. This year it's a new coach, a new system and a new team.
Suddenly Marian Gaborik's season-long slump, the team's inability to beat the NHL's basement dwellers and the inconsistency seen all year is thrown out the window. It all starts over, all the sins of the past are forgiven.
The motto at this point is simple. Win four games, then try to do it again. Rinse, lather, repeat.
It sounds simple. But as we've said all along, it's much easier said than done.