The New York Rangers went into the last day of the season in the same fashion as the New York did a few months ago. Like the Giants when they defeated the Washington Redskins, the Blueshirts held up their end of the bargain with a 5-2 whipping of the New Jersey Devils, but the Tampa Bay Lightning were a lot more helpful to New York than the Chicago Bears were, as John Tortorella's old team ended the Carolina Hurricanes' season, much to the relief of Ranger fans everywhere (not to mention the themselves). After having to rely on getting some help to qualify for the postseason, the Blueshirts got a stay of execution from the governor with Tampa Bay's win, and maybe we should all chip in and send the Lightning franchise a big gift basket for their good deed. With the New York Knicks having already clinched a playoff spot and the New York Mets and New York Yankees not having a particularly great week (with the Yankees giving a bit of hope to the Boston Red Sox as well), the Player of the Week award has to be given to a Ranger. It's really a team award, but this week's honors go to . . .
Ryan McDonagh: We had to pick somebody from the Blueshirts, and the young defenseman gets the nod, though we could have selected any of a handful of Rangers. Maybe the Scott Gomez signing wasn't so bad after all, as it ultimately netted McDonagh in return. The 21-year-old picked the perfect time to notch his first NHL goal, when he put the puck in the back of the net for the game-winner against the Devils to save the season. He's cool and calm and plays with the poise of a veteran. The same could be said of his defensive partner, Michael Sauer, who also scored an important goal, when he gave the Rangers the lead in their improbable comeback victory over the Boston Bruins on Monday. The two kids are solid as a rock, and they symbolize the 2010-'11 Rangers-a group of homegrown, young, blue-collar, hard-working (well, there were a couple of games mixed in here and there that were exceptions to that), hard-hitting, shot-blocking grinders with a heart as big as John Tortorella's lexicon of curse of words. Chris Drury earned his Captain Clutch nickname with his first goal of the year on his first shift after returning from injury exile. The Devils would have liked nothing better than to end their rival's season, but Drury stopped the momentum from swinging their way, as did Wojtek Wolski with his tying goal. Vinny Prospal was a man on a mission in the Boston game, beginning the comeback with the first two goals of the game (and he added a goal and assist in the season finale). And let's not forget Henrik Lundqvist, who started the last 26 games, and put in his usual stellar performance. Now on to Washington.
Runners Up & Other Notables
Chris Young: While Mike Pelfrey (15.63 ERA) and Phil Hughes (16.50 ERA) battled it out to see who was the city's worst starter, reclamation project Young got off to a good as start as one could have in his fledgling New York career. He gutted out a win over the Philadelphia Phillies on Monday, only allowing one run in five and 1/3 innings, while striking out seven, including Ryan Howard twice, and he also got Howard to ground out to second with two outs and the bases loaded. But he made more news and noise with his bat, going three for three with an RBI and setting a franchise record by being the only pitcher to rack up two hits in one inning. He was even better in his second outing, as he threw a masterful seven one-hit innings, striking out five with two walks. He did go hitless, though, but his early numbers (1.46 ERA, 0.97 WHIP) are impressive. Unfortunately, the bullpen coughed up the lead and the offense stopped scoring, ruining Young's exceptional performance. Sandy Alderson didn't waste any time shaking up the relief corps, as the whole Blaine Boyer thing didn't really work out as he was designated for assignment (and Lucas Duda was sent down to the minors), and now Jason Isringhausen and Ryota Igarashi get their chance. Other Met notables: Ike Davis is avoiding any type of sophomore slump in the early going, as he's among the league leaders in RBIs with 10, and has a 1.042 OPS, and he came up with a clutch triple to drive in two in Saturday's win over the Nationals. And Jose Reyes has tied his own record by getting on base in the first inning in seven consecutive games.
CC Sabathia: The Yankees' ace was in the same boat as Young this week: Bullpen meltdowns and an anemic offense washed out a couple of effective outings. Sabathia pitched seven shutout innings, while only allowing a pair of hits, with six strikeouts and one walk against the Twins on Tuesday, and while he wasn't quite as good on Sunday night against the Red Sox, he only let in one run in five and 2/3 innings. And what was his reward? A no decision and a loss. After three games, he's sporting an impressively low 1.45 ERA with a 1.29 WHIP, but has an 0-1 record. A few other Yankees did have a good week, though, starting with Robinson Cano, who continued his love affair with Fenway Park (.500 average in the series and .937 OPS overall for the year). Will he pull a Chipper Jones and name one of his sons "Fenway"? Eric Chavez made a nice first impression, and has an early 1.111 OPS. While Russell Martin may prove to be the best ninth-place hitter since Butch Hobson belted 30 homers and knocked in 112 runs hitting last for the 1977 Red Sox. The catcher has a .977 OPS with three long balls and eight RBIs.
Carmelo Anthony: The Knicks are cruising as they tune up for the playoffs (that sounds good, doesn't it?). With their win on Sunday night, they clinched their first winning record since 2001. Their lack of chemistry and defensive shortcomings, with a sulking Carmelo Anthony the poster boy for the out-of-sync Knicks, seem light years away these days. With Amar'e Stoudemire sitting out the last couple of games, it's been the Carmelo Anthony Show, and he hasn't disappointed. In Sunday's dramatic road win in Indiana, Anthony hit the game-winning shot and came up with the game-saving block. He also scored 34 points along the way, to go with 25 in the win over the New Jersey Nets (and 14 rebounds), 31 against the 76ers and 23 vs. the Raptors. Oh yeah, he also hit the game-sealing three-pointer in the Philadelphia win. And he's become a three-point-shooting machine lately, adding the long shot to his already dangerous arsenal of offensive weapons. Chauncey Billups and Toney Douglas are also hitting their stride as the postseason beckons.