Well the Devils did their part. After dropping the first game to Philly, four straight wins earned them a trip to the Eastern Conference finals where they now await the winner of Washington-New York. Their forecheck was too relentless for the Flyers to handle, their discipline too foreign for Philly’s uncontrolled tempers. Marty played exactly how you’d expect a future first ballot hall of famer to play after being there many times before. Bryz played exactly how you’d expect an over-paid, bi-polar eunuch of a goalie to play when confronted with the pressures of playoff hockey. Kovy and Parise produced. Giroux got suspended. To a man, the Flyers were simply outworked, outclassed and outcoached by a hungrier New Jersey squad. Props to Deboer and the Devils for doing it while playing a style of hockey that isn’t completely unwatchable.
So, half of the stage is set. A tri-state battle for a trip to the finals needs only New York to win tonight, and then it’s a 90′s style showdown to take one step closer to the Stanley Cup. I’m not trying to get ahead of myself here, because everybody knows that a 3-2 lead does not a series win, but the prospect of this matchup has me positively floored. Two teams, both in my writing jurisdiction, battling it out for the right to rep the East. Nonstop chirping across the Hudson, nothing but home games, Lundy vs Marty – it’s the perfect storm of built-in hatred hockey. Just thinking about it makes me want to lockerbox Gumdrop while watching the exorcist or something. Because before this season started, merely making the conference finals would have been a good enough step for the Rangers’ progression in my opinion. Learning a tough late-round lesson wouldn’t have been the worst thing for a young Blueshirt team still in the midst of maturing, but now that’s not enough. Not with New Jersey as the only team left standing in our way. Now it’s Cup Finals or bust. For the sake of regional pride and rivalry bragging rights, we just can’t lose to the Devils.
But before we get all giddy about traveling back in time to the mid-90′s, the Rangers have to advance past Washington. After winning on Monday in gloriously heart-breaking fashion, tonight’s their chance to take advantage and avoid a pressure-filled seventh game. Seize it, Blueshirts. Seize it like a bare throat and crush the life right out of the Capitals. Don’t let this go on. Don’t let them crawl back into this series. Stay out of the box, pepper Holtby from everywhere, and outwork Washington to a comfortable win. As someone suffering from hockey-induced heart attacks not coincidentally linked to your games, I’m literally begging you in blog form. Just win tonight. Do it for your fans. Do it to play the Devils. Do it for the Cup. @Osgood_StoolNYC