Wed 29 Apr 2009
“For of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: ‘It might have been!’”
I know John Greenleaf Whittier wasn’t a Rangers fan because he died in 1892. However, that quote pretty much sums what it means to be fan of the New York Rangers.
The list of things that “might have been” are too numerous to list in a mere blog. One would need to write book to detail all of them. They are as diverse as the Rangers being forced to play “home” playoff games on the road because the circus took precedence at Madison Square Garden to Jean Ratelle breaking his ankle in the regular season – thus rendering him ineffective in the Stanley Cup Finals against the Boston Bruins to the Rangers passing on Mike Bossy not once, but twice in the 1997 NHL Draft.
However, it seems that the Rangers-Capitals playoff series crammed 82 games worth of “might have beens” into just seven games.
The Rangers inefficient power play has been a story all season long. Had the Rangers power play been average, the Blueshirts fortunes would have been far different. Perhaps they would won the Atlantic Division and been in a position to make a true run in the playoffs.
How different would Game 3 have been if Ryan Callahan’s shot did not deflect off Nicklas Backstrom’s stick and stay out of the net? Washington not only dodged the bullet, but they extended their lead to 2-0. How different would the outcome have been if the Rangers ended the first period tied at one?
A similar question could be asked in reference to Game 6 when Nikolai Zherdev’s backhander missed an open net prior to Viktor Kozlov scoring to make it 4-1? A 3-2 deficit would have been much more manageable.
Even a Rangers win in Game 4 is not without its questions. What happens if Sean Avery does not take two of the most foolish penalties a player could take with his team clinging to a one-goal lead in the third period? Not only would the Rangers’ victory been less agita-filled, but Avery would not have been benched in Game 5. Would the presence of Avery in the lineup for Game 5 have made a difference? We will never know.
Of course, had Avery not been benched in Game 5, then John Tortorella’s action during Game 5, and subsequent one-game suspension, do not make the Rangers bench boss look like the biggest hypocrite in the world. Would it made a difference if the coach was behind the bench for Game 6? Tortorella finally addressed the issue and offered his opinion.
“Sure I regret not being there,” Tortorella explained to A.J. Perez of USA Today. “I want to be with the team. Do I think that had an effect as far as the outcome? No. (Assistant Coach) Jim Schoenfeld is a very good coach.
Of course, the whole mess did take something out Avery in terms of his play in Game 6. The Rangers uber-pest was just a shell of himself – something which changed in Game 7 when he was the best Ranger on the ice.
“I thought Sean played well. Where Sean played is where he has to play – he has to be on edge, he has to be right there on the edge, but stay within himself. It’s a tough thing for a player …. There are some things that go on around him during a game that doesn’t go on around a lot of other players,” Tortorella said to Steve Zipay of Newsday.
Washington’s victory helped erase a “might have been” of their own by exorcising the ghost of last season when they went down three games to one to the Philadelphia Flyers before losing Game 7 at home in overtime.
“This is huge,” Mike Green offered to Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post. “We worked so hard the last two years. To be put back in the same place – that is not a good building block. If you don’t win this game, you are taking steps backward.”
Even though they won the series the Capitals must wonder how their fortunes would have gone if Jose Theodore hadn’t been so awful in Game 1. If he had played well enough to lose in those first two games, it is possible that Simeon Varlamov never plays in the series – and there we have the biggest “what might have been” for the Rangers.
What would have happened in the series if Capitals regular backup goaltender Brent Johnson had not been injured? If Johnson was healthy, it would have been more likely for Boudreau to go to the veteran Johnson considering he had played well during the regular season against the Rangers.
If Johnson had been in goal for this series, the Rangers would be preparing for a showdown with the Bruins instead of cleaning out their lockers for yet another early Summer vacation.