Two games in, the Rangers seemed to potentially have something special cooking up this playoff season.
Potentially very, very special, if you catch my big, shiny, historic trophy drift.
Yup, we know: one inning, one period, one game, one series at a time. These are the rules of hockey coach and player and we respect them. wink wink.
But here was something to ponder as the Rangers returned to Madison Square Garden on Saturday night for Game 3 of their first-round playoff series after back-to-back 5-1 victories over the Devils in Newark:
Efficiency counts this time of year. Which means not playing longer or harder than necessary en route to the 16 wins needed to parade the Stanley Cup.
Forget all that stuff about quick playoff series and long layoffs that cause rust.
It happens sometimes, of course, and there are plenty of examples of all kinds of playoff paths for Stanley Cup winners.
But long layoffs are a bigger issue in baseball, where players are used to playing every day, and checking and fighting are discouraged.
Hockey is a fast, tough sport, and fatigue and injuries are real issues during the long tussle for both finals.
Consider a recent example: the 2021-22 Rangers.
Their playoff journey began with a triple-overtime loss to the Penguins, which they ultimately needed seven games to eliminate.
Then they played the Hurricanes and needed seven games to eliminate them.
He then played with the two-time defending Cup champion Lightning, winning the first two games, then losing four in a row – scoring a total of five goals in those games.
When asked on Friday whether such things could serve as motivation to shut down the Devils in short order, Rangers coach Gerard Gallant was not eager to go down that conversational road.
He said: “We have run out of petrol [last year] And we had a lot of injuries that people didn’t know about until the summer, obviously, as did Tampa Bay.
“But there were a lot of boys, [Ryan Strome], [Andrew] Copp, those guys had to have surgery to fix the stomach problems. And so it was more about exiting personnel. We had a lot of injuries.”
So wouldn’t a four- or five-game series against the Devils be a good way to start things this spring, if only to avoid injuries?
“We were down 2-0 last year; We were up 2-0 last year,” Gallant said. “You just have to keep playing. You have to take it one period at a time, one game at a time, and you hope for the best.
“If someone is lucky enough to win this four-match series, you get a week to wait for the next series. So there are always different options.
He added: “I mean, I’m happy we’re up 2-0, but you have to be ready for the next one. We’re going to worry about everyone else.
In 2014, the Rangers needed seven games to sweep both the Flyers and Penguins, won a tough six-game battle with Montreal, then lost to the Kings in the Finals in five, three of which went to overtime. Two to double overtime.
But the Kings were the one who had a better excuse for running out of gas: They won three Game 7s on their way to the Finals that year, all three on the road.
The Rangers’ two one-sided victories over the Devils in this series recalled many of the famous 1993–94 Rangers, which began with a sweep of the Islanders, in which they held a combined 22–3 advantage.
He then sent the Capitals in five games.
Perhaps those two relatively easy opening series set them up for the upcoming seven-game battle against the Devils and Canucks.
You know how that season ended.