The NHL playoffs are a new beginning. Whether your regular season was considered a disappointment, or whether it was deemed a success is irrelevant. There isn't much that the playoffs guarantee -- other than the fact that higher seeds begin the series at home and they're sure to play one more game in their friendly confines if the series hits seven games.
Thursday night, the one sure thing about the playoffs will be realized for the New York Rangers: They get to host a Game 7 versus the Ottawa Senators at Madison Square Garden at 7:00 p.m. (MSG/NBCSN). The Eastern Conference's top regular season team will be looking to avoid the upset from the eight-seeded Senators and advance into the second round to play the Washington Capitals.
Since John Tortorella has began his stint as Rangers' coach, he has spoken about the "process." With a young team, it was the steps and how they reached those goals that mattered most. Each (full) year with Tortorella in control has seen improvement: from 87 to 93 to 109 points this season. Gradually, New York made believers in those that didn't expect them to be among the top-tier teams in the NHL. However, all of their regular-season success could be forgotten with a loss Thursday, as the Rangers look to advance into the second round for the first time in four years.
The good news for New York is that its in-your-face, physical, grind-it-out style returned in the must-win Game 6, in which it toppled Ottawa 3-2. The Rangers certainly played with the desperation label, but in reality it was more about them returning to their identity. Brad Richards showed that fire, scoring and assisting; Derek Stepan broke out for his first career playoff points (goal, assist) and Chris Kreider netted his first-ever NHL goal. Henrik Lundqvist was also stellar, making 25 saves, while the defense played its most stingy game of the series. What the Rangers also need is a big game from their 41-goal scorer from the regular season, Marian Gaborik, who has one goal and three assists.
It doesn't get any better than a Game 7. Players will be battling for their season. Emotions will be high and the intensity will be ratcheted up a notch. MSG will also be rocking.