Survive and advance. Jim Valvano first spoke those words 25 years ago as his North Carolina State team went on its Cinderella run to the NCAA basketball championship. Those words still rung true last night as the New York Rangers eliminated the New Jersey Devils. While the series lasted only five games, each one was a war that seemed to come down to the last shift.

Interestingly enough, surviving and advancing wasn’t the only look back into the past. The Rangers revisited four significant moments in their playoff history.

With the Blueshirts seemingly in command with a 4-1 lead, Bryce Salvador channeled the spirit of Ron Francis and 1992 when the Devil defenseman’s shot from outside the blue line hit Brandon Dubinsky, banged off the post, hit Henrik Lundqvist and bounced into the net.

In addition to the Francis goal, Salvador’s masse shot brought back visions of Kevin Hatcher’s goal from the neutral zone against Mike Richter in Game 5 against the Washington Capitals.

The second look back into the past came when the Devils scored their five-on-three goal as Patrik Elias innocent shot bounced in off Fedor Tyutin as visions of Marc Staal and Game 3 flashed into focus.

The final stroll down memory lane came in the third period when John madden looked to tie the goal with his penalty shot attempt. Ranger fans flashed back to Vancouver in 1994 when Richter atoned for the Francis goal as he stoned Pavel Bure’s penalty shot attempt. Much like Richter’s save, Lundqvist’s save on Madden seemed to stem the tide and turn it in favor of the Blueshirts.

The Rangers opponent in the Eastern Conference semifinals could be decided as soon as Saturday. While four teams still remain in play, odds are the Rangers will face either the Montreal Canadiens or the Pittsburgh Penguins. Both teams present a daunting task – especially if the Rangers play like they did against the Devils.

The Blueshirts will need to elevate their intensity and execution in the next round. They were able to get away with some of their mistakes and turnovers because the Devils do not posses a potent offense. The same cannot be said of the Habs or the Pens. Montreal’s speed has the potential to magnify those mistakes and turnovers while Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are certain to cause problems.

Even if the Rangers do eliminate those mistakes and turnovers, they will not be able to get away with playing the way they did in the third period in Game 5 against the Devils. The Rangers retreated into a passive 1-2-2 defensive mode and practically shut down the forecheck that got them where they were. As a result, the Devils were able to dictate the tempo of the play.

The Rangers also must remember to stay out of the penalty box in the next round. The last thing they want to do is give the Canadiens or Penguins any more power play chances than necessary. This will be a problem in the next series, not so much because of the Rangers, but because of their opponent – on a couple of levels.

Obviously, with the Rangers potentially facing a more offensive team than the Devils there will be more chances to take penalties. However, the offensive abilities of Montreal and Pittsburgh is not the only thing the Rangers have to worry about.

If there were concerns with the officiating against the Devils just wait until they face the Canadiens or the Penguins. The NHL has not seen a team from Canada win a Stanley Cup since the Habs did it in 1993. With the NHL looking to base its mainstream appeal on Sidney Crosby, playing the Penguins will be no walk in the par either. Conspiracy theorists start your engines.

The Rangers-Devils series is not the only one where questionable officiating has reared its ugly head. Yet despite all of the grumblings, the NHL remains blissfully unaware of the miserable jobs its on-ice officials are perpetrating.

Dave Gross of Canwest News Service offered what might be the most incredible misstatement ever uttered by a league official. The main behind the insanity was Stephen Walkom, the league’s Senior Vice President & Director of Officiating.

“We’ve had our bumps, but this is the first year where I believe our team has truly been consistent,” Walkom opined on Gary Bettman’s XM satellite radio program on Thursday.

The only consistent thing about the NHL’s officiating has been its inconsistency!

I would be remiss without visiting the Sean Avery-Martin Brodeur saga one final time. Brodeur proved himself to be classless and a hypocrite by ignoring Avery and not shaking his hand while shaking every other Rangers’ hand. At least when Billy Smith refused to shake hands he didn’t shake anyone’s hand.

Despite all of the lamentations about how Avery is bad for the game, he comes out of this series with more class than Brodeur.

“Everyone talks about how much class I don’t have, well it’s the end of the series and men go to war against each other,” the feisty winger offered. “I guess he forgot to shake my hand. I don’t know if anyone saw that. Of course I was going to shake his hand.”

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