- Last Updated: 5:39 AM, April 15, 2012
- Posted: 1:52 AM, April 15, 2012
The red light spun in silence. From one bench, the white-sweatered crew poured onto the ice in celebration, basking in the silence of a beaten crowd and a broken night. From the other, a string of blue shirts stepped on, some of them bent at the waist as if they’d been stricken by a sudden case of food poisoning.
“Four minutes away,” John Tortorella would say, “from winning the hockey game.”
The Rangers coach has been around the game long enough to know that four minutes can feel like four weeks in the playoffs. Everyone in the building knew that. Everyone understood that six months and 82 games of bleeding and sweating and working and grinding for home-ice advantage can dissolve in one second and one game.
That explained the silence in the moments after Chris Neil beat Henrik Lundqvist 77 seconds into overtime, sealing a 3-2 win for the Ottawa Senators and forcing the Rangers to confront a conundrum they’d hoped to postpone as long as possible.
All across the league, high seeds and ambitious teams had run into the playoff buzzsaw one after the other: the Penguins, the Canucks, the Blues. Earlier in the day the Bruins lost in double OT to the Caps. You never have to look very far to find humble in the NHL, not at this time of the year. Just look at the scores, and that’s enough to serve as a court spokesman, whispering in your ear: “Remember thou art mortal!”
Hockey teams know they’re mortal.
“Every team that makes the playoffs can win games,” Rangers center Brad Richards said. “But this isn’t something we were prepared for.”
Not after they’d attacked Game 1 so forcefully and won it so convincingly. Not after the way they’d taken Ottawa’s best – and most vicious – shots early in this one, the Senators clearly hoping they could take back momentum with their fists, Matt Carkner making a beeline for Brian Boyle less than two minutes into the game and cartoonishly pummeling him, Neil augmenting the nastiness a little later on, inviting Boyle to throw down, Boyle accepting.
It was certainly enough to get the Garden engaged, and whipped into a towel-waving frenzy. And when Boyle sought to give these 18,200 hoarse Garden denizens the ending they craved, burying a goal an instant before he was flattened to give the Rangers a 2-1 lead 2:41 into the third period, the inside of the Garden sounded like the inside of beehive. And continued to sound that way until Nick Fologno silenced them on the other end of the third period.
Four minutes away.
Four minutes that might as well have been four months.
And now a tipping-point match, far earlier than the Rangers ever expected to have one. Tomorrow night in Ottawa promises to be part sweatbox and part tinderbox for the Rangers. Senators coach Paul MacLean played for Winnipeg in 1987 and proudly reminded everyone he was a part of “the original Winnipeg white-out,” and said, “A Stanley Cup playoff game in Canada is something I’ve never been a done as a coach, and it’s something I can’t wait to be a part of again.”
It’s not something the Rangers wanted any part of, not now, needing to win at least one game in Ottawa if they hope to keep this splendid season from going up in flames. As much as anything, they need to avoid feeding the beast, straying from the business at hand. The Senators delighted in their antics last night, gladly took the Carkner-Brandon Dubinsky trade when both were handed game misconducts.
The Rangers had a chance to throw that firecracker back at the Senators. They didn’t. And afterward, they were reduced to swapping fighting words.
“There’s going to be a lot of stitches and blood before this series is over,” Senators center Zenon Konopka said.
“I’m sure it will get worse,” Richards said.
It is sure to get difficult, and uncomfortable, and prickly across the next few nights inside Scotiabank Place. The Rangers didn’t need this. Didn’t want this. The four minutes separating them and a 2-0 lead in this series turned into the longest four minutes of the season. And may feel like nothing compared to what they’ll soon endure north of the border.