Rangers Take Their 2007 Playoff Drive Up A Notch
By Joe McDonald Sports Columnist
GREENBURGH, NY - If the Rangers learned one lesson last season, it was the playoffs are a different animal than the regular season.
More intense. The stakes are higher. And everything means something.
Now, as they look to play the Atlanta Thrashers in the first round, the Blueshirts will try and take their game to the next level.
"It obviously goes up because there is desperation and elimination on the line," said Brendan Shanahan, who will be making his 17 th playoff appearance on Thursday. "Other teams we have been battling [over the past month] to keep our playoffs alive, so, now, we will have to battle to keep our season alive."
Shanahan - who just won the Good Guy Award from the New York Hockey Writers Association - will lead the charge as the Rangers try not to repeat the mistakes from last season.
They remember the four game sweep by the Devils in the first round of the playoffs last year. If the Rangers looked a little green in the 2006 postseason, they seem to be playoff tested even before they face Atlanta. Because they fought in the last month for a spot in the postseason dance, the Rangers gained some experience already.
"We can keep the way we have been playing the last four five weeks, we will be fine," said Henrik Lundqvist. "We need all the guys to play their best. It looks pretty good."
Added Matt Cullen: "It's another level. The most important thing we gained was a certain confidence with our style. And that confidence will go into the playoffs as well."
But even though the last few weeks have been intense, there is another notch that will be raised. All the players agree they will have to cut down on mistakes, but even more importantly is that they must forget about them when they happen.
Cullen learned that last year, when he won the Stanley Cup in Carolina. "I think the most important thing is how it is to manage how you react to a bad call or a mistake or even a loss," he said. "It's hard to carry it with you. You have to get rid of that right away. It's hard because each game is so intense and that's the hardest thing to deal with."
Sean Avery will need to learn that lesson, since he will be making his playoff debut this week. An intense player, Avery knows that he will need to stay focused.
"It's a mindset right now; thinking about certain plays between shifts," Avery said. "You have to think about the next shift...You have to focus on every shift you have and every play you make."
And that is what coach Tom Renney and his staff is preaching to the team. One thing the coach wants to avoid though is over-preparing them to play, which is what he said happened last year.
"We may have been too intense," said Renney, who will be coaching his second playoff series. "You can overshoot the runway with your preparation and we might have done that. I think it was a function on how we are playing the last month or so of the season. And the coaching staff tried to prepare ourselves too much." That may not be a problem this season, but the team does need to find a balance.
"You have to sustain it. It has to manifest itself into how you play," Renney said. "Not taking bad penalties or what you do with the puck. This is the time of year where minor mistakes can be killers for you. So you will see the intensity rise more."