The final game of the season


Tonight, the Rangers wrap up the season at MSG when they host the Blue Jackets. For all intents and purposes, the game means nothing. However, it has is of significant importance to Columbus. A win of any kind clinches the playoffs.

With that the case, there’s something to play for. No. I don’t expect our team to be as desperate as the Jackets should. However, a better effort than the horrible display we got the other night in a uncompetitive loss to lowly Ottawa is required. Coach David Quinn wasn’t happy. He expects better.

For that reason, I do too. Not that I particularly care if they win and potentially ruin former coach John Tortorella’s playoff chances. I never had a problem with how he did here. His tenure included a surprising first place finish in the East with a team that wasn’t expected to wind up there in ’11-12. That’s still one of the best coaching jobs a Rangers bench boss has done. Following the crushing loss in the Conference Final to the Devils, increased expectations cost Tortorella his job the next Spring. That’s ancient history.

All this time later, he’s still around trying to get an all in Columbus team into the big dance. They still haven’t gotten out of the first round. If they somehow lost tonight or got beaten out by the Canadiens, who only have to beat the bitter rival Maple Leafs tomorrow night and get help, it probably will cost Tortorella his job. Likely the final one he’ll have as an NHL coach.

The Blue Jackets rolled the dice by acquiring Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel and former Blueshirt Adam McQuaid at the deadline. They know the situation with potential unrestricted free agents Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin this summer. You can add Duchene and Dzingel to that list. It’s now or never for them. Given how awful they were in a blowout home defeat to the Bruins, you’d expect some urgency later. If not, they’re playing with fire. Tomorrow is the last day of the regular season.

What I do know is that Alexandar Georgiev gets the start. He deserves it. Something Henrik Lundqvist acknowledged following the other day which wasn’t his fault. It sure is sad to look at his record. Since February, he’s 2-11-3 with a 3.19 GAA and .906 save percentage. The fact that he’s still at .906 during the worst stretch of his career speaks volumes. He’s faced an average of 33.8 shots per game.

By comparison, Georgiev is 7-4-3 with a 2.61 GAA and .926 save percentage plus a shutout on his 23rd birthday. Interestingly, the rookie has faced more shots since February, seeing an average of 35.9 over that span. His strong finish has opened Ranger eyes. He’s earned the right to stay as the backup for next season.

Though it’ll be interesting to see how top rated Russian goalie prospect Igor Shestyorkin performs ‘if’ he is signed finally. The Rangers have a good problem in net. It’s also worth noting that there would be virtually no market for Georgiev, who’s much more unproven than either Cam Talbot or Antti Raanta were. That’s why the talk that they should explore a trade is ridiculous. Goalies don’t have much value unless they’ve proven themselves.

When I observe the games that Georgiev starts, the team tends to play harder for him. Even though he’s faced a inordinate amount of shots, they do a good job limiting opponents from getting good looks. By keeping most to the perimeter and taking care of the net front, it allows Georgiev to see most of the shots and get into a rhythm.

I don’t know if it’s a psychological thing. But it always has felt like the team plays differently for the backup than Lundqvist. Maybe it’s due to what the 37-year old future Hall of Famer has accomplished. He’s spoiled us. It’s why seeing him go through all the losing is tough. Those postgame interviews with MSG lifer John Giannone are hard to watch. You can see how much it’s taken a toll. To his credit, he’s acknowledged that this is what he signed up for. Maybe not the miserable performance they gave him on Tuesday.

It’s hard to explain why this team laid proverbial eggs on its two biggest nights. The shutout to now playoff bound Carolina on the 25-Year Anniversary celebration of 1994, and the stinker on Steven McDonald night when Mika Zibanejad won the Extra Effort Award. It doesn’t make sense.

Given how bad they were which they admitted, I don’t see them mailing it in tonight. If the Blue Jackets want to guarantee themselves the playoffs, they’ll have to earn it.

It’s gonna be a bit strange to be at such a nonchalant game. Most of our fans are rooting for a loss. Something I can’t do. Not at least publicly. Though I do get the logic. If they lose this one and get beat once again by the Pens tomorrow in Game 82, it could help the Rangers in next week’s Draft Lottery. Maybe they can finish a spot or two higher to give them better odds at Jack Hughes or Kaapo Kakko.

When the game starts, all that becomes secondary. I won’t be thinking about it like a few annoying fans who have become fascinated by it. I’m there to enjoy a game and catch up with our extended family. Those are the people who make the game experience still fun. Without them, I don’t think we would still be going to the select number of games that we do.

It’s the end of another season at MSG for the Garden Faithful. A phrase made famous by Adam Graves. Let’s remember that.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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