By: Michael Abitabilo
“At a certain point, you’ve got to take a punch to the face.”
Brian Boyle wasn’t speaking metaphorically after game six of the Rangers’ series against the Penguins, but he might as well have been.
The Rangers were punched in the face in games two, three, and four of their second round series. But just when it seemed their season was over, the Rangers punched back and scored a knockout victory over Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and the rest of the Penguins.
Boyle was describing the Rangers’ response to the Crosby Boys’ repeated slashes, jabs and other stick infractions, and making the point that he and his teammates had to be willing to fight back to put a stop to the shenanigans. But it was that same mentality upon which the Rangers relied to climb out of a 3-1 series deficit to advance to their second conference final in three years.
The Rangers were booed by their home fans during game four not just because they were about to lose their third straight game in the series. It was the way they were losing – listless, careless with the puck, and consistently losing puck battles along the boards and in open ice. All of that changed in game five. Seemingly fortified by the death of Martin St. Louis’s mother, the Rangers were suddenly willing to take an unlimited number of face punches for one another. The Rangers outworked the Penguins, scored timely goals, took care of the puck in the critical areas, and defended well. Add to that some fantastic goaltending from Henrik Lundqvist – including a transcendent game seven performance – and the Rangers found a delicious recipe for series success they hope to carry into the next round.
The Rangers were punched in the face literally and metaphorically this series, and became a better team for it. New York will play either the Boston Bruins or Montreal Canadiens in the eastern conference finals, both of whom present unique challenges for the Blueshirts. Either way, the Rangers know they’ll have a puncher’s chance.
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Mike Abitabilo is the co-founder of the Read Zone, and hasn’t been this surprised by the outcome of a Rangers playoff series since … ever.