Maybe desperation mode should be what the New York Rangers always operate off of. In their 3-2 Game 6 win over the Ottawa Senators, the New York Rangers lived to see another day -- at least one more on Madison Square Garden ice. Even before knotting the series at three games, the two wins before that never truly embodied the 2011-12 Rangers. Game 6 did.
Perhaps playing for their lives was the wake-up call the Eastern Conference's leading regular-season team required to jumpstart their game. The Blueshirts of this season haven't needed many of those, that's for sure. And when they did need them, it wasn't under the microcosm of a seven-game series, that turned to two and now is at one. Game 7 will tell a lot about the growth of this team, but if there's any indication from Game 6 it's that this year's version of the Rangers may have returned. It was present in Ottawa on Monday night, there's no doubt about that.
The Rangers had scored a total of three goals over their previous three games, and that resulted in one win. Playoff series are naturally more tightly played, and it seemed that Ottawa was taking a dose of the Rangers' playbook and sticking it to them during the two-game losing streak: grinding away, being physical and generally outworking the blue-collar Rangers.
Monday was a great sign for New York. Back came the sturdy play on defense, the group effort all over the ice and strong puck support. Back came the smart decision making in all ends of the ice. Most of all, though, back came the hard-working, out-working style that has become a staple of John Tortorella's group. Down 1-0 seven minutes into the game? The Rangers didn't panic, just like they haven't all season. They stuck with the 2011-12 program, and it ended up paying off as they battling back to force a Game 7.
You know the Rangers are clicking when there isn't one person to peg a win on. Monday night, you could name six players to give the "Broadway Hat" too. Derek Stepan broke out of a 10-game playoff slump with a goal and two assists. A determined Brad Richards showed difference-making capabilities, playing like a man that didn't want his season to end, scoring once and assisting on another. Then there's rookie Chris Kreider, who played 10:46 and netted the game-winner, after taking a goalie-interference penalty early in the second period. Henrik Lundqvist made a number of key saves (25 altogether), the last goal of which came controversially as the puck looked to be kicked in by Chris Neil, and then worsened by Neil pushing him away. And don't forget Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi, who tallied over 30 shifts and played almost half of the game. New York has its headliners, just like any team, but throughout the season it was always a team effort. That was evident Monday, and will obviously need to continue to keep the playoff run alive.
The Rangers don't play "beautiful" hockey. How many of the Rangers' 51 wins this season were played in that regard. Forty-nine shots the entire game, 22 for the Rangers. New York is successful on offense by dumping the puck in the offensive zone, winning puck battles and cycling. It's never fun to watch, and that type of offense returned Monday. It will never awe you with glamorous individual efforts. It will wow you with how hard it works in all zones.
Even more encouraging is that after losing the series' best forward, Brian Boyle, in Game 6, the Rangers rallied around each other and pulled through. It was a collective job for the entire team, such as the penalty killers for bouncing back for four straight kills after giving up one in the first period. Lundqvist was excellent, but the foundation by which this team has been modeled upon showed in Game 6 -- and that's a full commitment to defense by all five forwards.
The Rangers didn't play desperate hockey. That's just an excuse. They just played with the style that has made them one of the NHL's best this season.