Whether or not the New York Rangers make the playoffs this season, their 5-2 victory over the New Jersey Devils leaves a much better taste in the mouth than last season’s bitter taste following the shootout loss to the Philadelphia Flyers.

With their playoff destiny out of their hands, the Blueshirts now can only sit and wait the outcome of tonight’s Tampa Bay Lightning and Carolina Hurricanes game.

If the Rangers do fall just short of the playoffs, there will be plenty of time to bring down the breakdowns that cost them a shot at playing for the Stanley Cup. The 0-5-1 streak, the crucial losses to the Sabres, Islanders, and Thrashers, and the shootout loss to the Senators will be discussed over and over.

Now is a time to sit back and celebrate a team that caused Ranger fans to fall in love with their team all over again. Fans witnessed a team that spent far more nights giving it their all as opposed to phoning efforts. So much so, that is caused Larry Brooks of the “NY Post” to coin them the “Black-and-Blueshirts”.

It was that “give blood, play hockey” attitude that allowed them to still have a chance at the playoffs come game 82. It is also the same reason that their playoff fate rests in the hands of the Hurricanes.

The Rangers style of play that fans fell in love with is the same one that forced the likes of Ryan Callahan to miss 21 games this season – plus whatever playoffs games he might or might not miss.

While the Rangers struggled to score goals this season, and they did, they were automatic when they did score and manage to take a lead into the third period. Their victory over the Devils made it 29 for 29 – numbers that are very Mariano Rivera like. It is a figure that the Rangers should be proud of and look to build upon come the 2011/2012 season.

There will be plenty of time to review each of the players’ plusses and minuses this season once the Rangers fate is determined. However, there are some general pluses that deserve to be celebrated – whether the Blueshirts’ season continues or not.

Ranger fans have long been clamoring to let the kids play. Whether by choice or salary cap circumstance, the Rangers did let the kids play and they showed that the future is bright for the Rangers.

That bright future begins and ends with the man between the pipes – Henrik Lundqvist. While The King did have his struggles, he played solid hockey down the stretch starting 26 consecutive games and keeping the offensively-challenged Rangers alive come the last days of the season.

The Callahan, Artem Anisimov and Brandon Dubinsky showed that they earned top line minutes and will make a great second line if the Rangers can get a strong first line going. Derek Stepan showed that he has the potential to be an impact forward and could be the anchor of that first line.

They integrated two rookie defensemen into their top four blueline rotation. While there were some growing pains, Ryan McDonagh and Michael Sauer joined Marc Staal and Daniel Girardi to help form the core of a solid defensive corps.

I know that there are still some tough decisions to make as the Rangers and the NHL approach the NHL Draft in June and the impending free agent frenzy that starts July 1. Again, there will be time to review and preview the Rangers as they look forward to their off-season business.

Right now all eyes turn to the RBC Center in Raleigh, North Carolina. The hard charging Hurricanes are 8-1- in their last 10 games while the Lightning are 6-3-1 and are cemented into the fifth slot in the Eastern Conference with a playoff matchup against the Pittsburgh Penguins on the horizon.

Tampa Bay also approaches tonight with a heavy heart as assistant coach Wayne Fleming battles a serious health issue. The Lightning issued the following statement today:

Tampa Bay Lightning assistant coach Wayne Fleming is home resting comfortably after undergoing a procedure on Thursday, April 7 at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute in Tampa. Fleming was recently diagnosed as having a primary brain tumor.

On the plus side, it appears that Tampa Bay will be playing to win. At about 4pm, the Lightning’s official Twitter site offered the following tweet:

Lightning will dress most regulars tonight against Carolina. Hedman will return from his lower body injury. Mike Smith in net. Malone out.

So for one night, Ranger fans will put away the red, white and blue and don the lightning bolt and join Tampa Bay fans in a chorus of “Let’s Go Lightning!”

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