- ‘Surprising’ is no longer adequate to describe the Rangers season; the Blueshirts’ 35th win of the season put them past even amazing and incredible, straight into Rod Serling territory
. A convincing sweep of the obnoxious Leafs was more than one could have asked for, or even imagined. Not that the Rangers aren’t a better team and shouldn't have won both games, but coming after the dramatic win in Philadelphia, the sheer humiliation of an Islanders’ team that didn’t seem to be in the same league, and the eye-opening win against Ottawa in front of a raucous crowd, one could have easily imagined and accepted a split with a desperate Leafs team that the Rangers always have a problem with.
The big picture, once a 2-3 year (optimistically) project, is presently the next two and a half weeks, as we all hold our breath that we get the team back in one piece for the resumption of the season on March 2. You never quite know what you’ll get when you throw a new mix with young, hungry guys together with a new coaching staff; add in great goaltending and a guy playing like he’s the best in the world, and suddenly the future becomes now. There’s something magical about a team that just comes together like this one has, and we’ve seen teams like this go far into the playoffs. Despite the emphasis on the future, there’s more than a little “now” element to this team – Martin Straka, who I never imagined was this good (even if he should have twice as many goals as he has), is a Group III free agent after the season, as is, according to this chart on the Hockey Trade Rumors website
, Rucinsky, Ward, Poti, Rucchin, and Strudwick.
And we’ve heard some strange rumblings from Jaomir Jagr about wanting to play in Russia. He’s certainly playing like a man with a particular mission, and with that being the case, should the team continue to roll after the break, Sather and Maloney may feel that, as unimaginable the thought would have been in September, they’re in a position to trade one of the surplus of valuable prospects in the system for a veteran that can help now. If you happen to stumble upon a team that just happens to click, you gotta go for it. Just the defection of two or three of the abovementioned players can completely change the chemistry, and in this era, changes are the rule rather than the exception.
The break might be a good thing; it will be a chance for the role players like Moore and Ortmeyer and Rucchin to recharge their legs. Sykora is looking forward to the rest, and Prucha will be safe and sound and working towards his return. Whether the recent good karma we’ve seen since Rucinsky’s ping-pong shot off Sykora’s mask tied the game in Philly will continue remains to be seen – there was the fortunate deflection on Kasparaitus’ pass to Poti on his breakaway goal at the Garden; in Toronto, Rucinsky’s centering pass was conveniently returned to him by a Leafs defender, allowing him to set up Sykora in the slot; Straka’s pass bounced off a Leafs skate right to Jagr for his 40th.
One thing I was a bit disturbed about was the way the Leafs went after Jagr without any retribution. Bryan McCabe was penalized for a hard and particularly vicious and uncalled for blind-side check after the puck was gone; and Darcy Tucker drew an elbowing penalty that didn’t look as bad on replay as it did originally. But still, in the not-so-old days, many teams (usually other than the Rangers) would never allow their best player to be abused like that, and even now, I doubt that a Pat Quinn-coached team would allow that to pass without a response. Yeah, I’m an old-time hockey guy; but if teams see that they can slam Jagr without consequence, the consequences for the Rangers could be catastrophic.