NEW YORK — The Rangers fooled everyone.
After a regular season that could be described as “mediocre at best,' the Blueshirts somehow managed to upset the third-seeded Washington Capitals in seven games, relying largely on Henrik Lundqvist and little else to do so. Their Game 7 performance, in which they blew out the Caps on the road, led many to think that this team had finally turned a corner.
Not even close.
With the Rangers now in a 3-0 hole in their best-of-seven series against Boston, much has been made of the failures of marquee players Rick Nash and Brad Richards, but the truth is the team as a whole has been on very thin ice for the entire postseason.
Of the 10 games they've played so far in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, seven have been decided by just one goal. Given that the Rangers are just 3-4 in those games — based largely on the play of Lundqvist, who made several key saves in a, you guessed it, one-goal loss to the Bruins in Game 3 — and it would make sense that an astoundingly poor rate of success on the power play could be to blame for their problems.
New York is somehow just 2-for-38 on the man advantage this postseason, but in a press conference that lasted an agonizing three minutes after the 2-1 defeat, coach John Tortorella didn't seem to think that was his top concern.
“We just didn't spend enough time in their end zone,' he offered. “At times, we struggled to get through. And when we got through, we just didn't sustain our forecheck. A team that's rolling their lines the way they are, you need to have some time in their end zone, and as the game went on we were there less and less.'
In fact, nobody asked about the power play at all. Perhaps it was just assumed that it was a foregone conclusion that it was a lost cause. Perhaps nobody wanted to end up on YouTube as a result of the inevitably snarky answer that would follow. But, the problems are bigger than that, and extend to play at even strength.
Tortorella, of course, can't roll all four of his forward units. He can't even keep his combinations together at all, having relegated Richards — who won the Conn Smythe for the Tampa Bay Lightning under Tortorella in 2004 — to the fourth line, where he played a staggeringly small 8:10 on Tuesday night.
Meanwhile, Boston's fourth line accounted for both of its goals (defenseman Johnny Boychuk earned its first tally with that line on the ice) and the bristly bench boss was left wondering what options he has left.
“I'm going with a pretty short bench with as far as who I thought was going, and it's a bit of a Catch-22 there,' he said. “They kept on rolling, and their fourth line scores a couple goals.'
Certainly, the Rangers will take production wherever they can get it. And although Tortorella told reporters after the game that, a la Mark McGwire, he wasn't there to talk about the past, history has shown that his team may have a small glimmer of hope.
Just three years ago, the Bruins were up 3-0 on the Flyers in this very same round, the Eastern Conference Semifinals, and lost in seven games.
The reality, however, is that New York would be lucky to extend the series to five games, no less seven.
Perhaps “The Who' summarized it best: We don't get fooled again/Don't get fooled again/Change it had to come/We knew it all along.
And until those changes do come — whether it be behind the bench, to the personnel or to the pitiful power play — Rangers fans can only hope they won't get fooled again.