Well, the four-minute second period letdown in Game 1 has been replaced by the horrible final 1:47 of regulation in Game 5.  On a night when the Rangers almost did everything they could not to win – they managed to step up and find a way to one-up themselves.

I can try and whine away the loss to the weak hooking call on Blair Betts in overtime that was a makeup call for an earlier weak call against the Sabres.  I can wring my hands over the phantom goalie interference penalty on Brad Isbister when it appeared, to me anyway, that Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller initiated any of the contact – especially when the referees overlooked a Daniel Briere cross check on Henrik Lundqvist during a goal mouth scramble late in the second period.  The bottom line is the Rangers, after playing a lackluster game, had this game won going into the final two minutes when the wheels fell off the wagon.

The beginning of the end started when Michael Rozsival iced the puck with 1:47 left.  The almost-hero for the Rangers, Martin Straka, then committed a turnover with 1:05 to play when he made a cross ice pass at the Sabres’ blue line rather than take the safer, and smarter, play of dumping the puck deep and going in on the forecheck.  Oh yeah, that would have required the Rangers to actually forecheck (more on that later).  Then Fedor Tyutin commits the final icing with 16 second remaining in regulation.

The funny thing is you can pile all of those mistakes, one on top of another, and they still don’t compare to the one coach Tom Renney made in the final two minutes.  Why in the world was the Jaromir Jagr line on the ice in the final two minutes?  Arguably, they are the Blueshirts worst defensive line.  Then toss in the fact that Michael Nylander has been battling a flu bug and Jagr was not 100% after bumping knees with Dainius Zubrus and you left wondering which team Renney was coaching last night.

On top of all that, the Rangers still had a chance to win, and might have, if they played as a five-man unit instead of running around – especially as Chris Drury tied the game.  The Rangers skaters looked more like goalies as three players went to the net rather than go for the puck.  If only the forwards went to the net like that on offense.

I am still wondering why the Rangers just didn’t start pulling people down and holding and hooking.  With so little time left in the game, a penalty wasn’t going to play a big difference.  In fact, it would have allowed Renney to make up for his brain fart of using the Jagr line to protect a one-goal lead with less that two minutes left in the game.

Even worse than Renney’s decision, it seems that none of the beat writers even questioned him about it.  If they did, none of them wrote about it.

Ah, offense.  I wrote previously that offense is overlooked when it comes to the playoffs and the Rangers sure overlooked it last night.  They let the Sabres dictate the tempo of the game as the Blueshirts seemed more interested in not losing the game than winning the game.  Instead of forechecking and stopping the Sabres before they got started, the Rangers lapsed into a more passive game, as they seemed more intent on clogging the neutral zone than doing anything else.

Unfortunately, I was right about one other thing prior to Game 5.  I wrote that Maxim Afinogenov would be a player to be watched – and he was.  It seems that Lindy Ruff’s benching of the enigmatic winger might have saved the series for the Sabres.

History does not look kindly on the Rangers uphill climb.  The Rangers are 1-11 when they have lost Game 5 during any best-of-seven series – as opposed to their 8-1 record when they win Game 5.  In fact, teams winning Game 5 go on to win 80% of those series.  Of course, that one Ranger win was in 1994 when they came back to defeat the New Jersey Devils – after blowing a one-goal lead in Game 7 with, yup, 7.7 seconds remaining in regulation.  However, there is no Mark Messier, Brian Leetch or Stephane Matteau to rescue them in 2007.

Conversely, the Sabres are 2-1 win they win Game 5 and are 1-9 when they lose.

The bottom line for Game 6 is the Rangers have to throw everything at the Sabres.  They need to regain their focus and intensity and must be willing to forecheck the Sabres from the start.  They are going to continue to need to get traffic in front of Miller and the Sabres net.  And much to the chagrin of Jagr, the Rangers power play must shoot more, get traffic in front and play dump and chase when the Sabres line four across at the blue line.

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