PHILADELPHIA -- The New York Rangers lost a one-goal game on opening night to the Stanley Cup-champion Penguins in Pittsburgh and their fans thought, "not bad." The goals came from Chris Drury and Marian Gaborik, production from the players who were supposed to be the team's best players.
They then reeled off seven straight victories and the whole hockey world was thinking, "This might be their year."
Then, they lost five of six. Losses to the Islanders, Wild and Flames left the fans as upset as coach John Tortorella. Good games followed bad games and then there were inexplicable games. They lost, 6-0, to the Flyers in their own building on Dec. 30 and they appeared to be a certified second-division team.
The idea that they still had a thin chance to make the playoffs was blown up in a nationally televised game on March 21 when they lost, 2-1, in Boston.
What happened after that is something the Rangers can't explain but they and their fans loved it. Starting with a 5-0 shutout of the Islanders three days later, the Rangers went on a 7-1-1 run to draw into a tie for eighth place with the Philadelphia Flyers. All they had to do was win their final game of the season, in Philadelphia on Sunday, and they were in the playoffs.
Rangers vs. Flyers (Getty Images)
It was not to be. The Rangers fell, 2-1, by losing a shootout, 2-1, and their inconsistent season was over.
"We realize we were inconsistent through the year and it cost us at the end of the year," defenseman Wade Redden said. "We get full credit for coming back and battling at the end but it was too little too late. It's disappointing to come up short."
How could they be so good at the beginning and the end and so mediocre through most of the rest of the season?
"We scraped and clawed to give ourselves a chance in this game and it's disappointing to come up short after going on a good streak like that," Redden said. "I guess you could look at it like, after 82 games you can look back at a couple of games where a couple of points would have made a difference."
"I hate to see the way our season ended, it was tough. We jelled as a team. We were all playing the same way and we all believed we could get into the playoffs and play well. We had good chemistry with the guys we had and the guys who came in played great. We just came up a little short." --Marc Staal
"I hate to see the way our season ended, it was tough," Marc Staal said when asked how heartbreaking it was to see an 18-day rally come up short. "We jelled as a team. We were all playing the same way and we all believed we could get into the playoffs and play well. We had good chemistry with the guys we had and the guys who came in played great. We just came up a little short."
Redden thought the hot start might have disguised a team that was just getting to know each other and that real chemistry didn't happen until the train had left the proverbial station.
"Looking back, it's hard to say," Redden said. "You look at the way our team was playing at the end of the year, battling and I would say better defensively, I think that was the biggest difference, having that team concept. I think we got away from that and it cost us."