Last night, the Rangers trailed 3-0, and seemed to be lacking confidence on the ice. They couldn’t seem to keep control of the puck, or get shots on goal against likely Vezina winner Tim Thomas. The crowd is booing, the fans at home are squirming in their seats, and then Vinny Prospal shows up. Prospal carried the Rangers on his back in the second period, and without his two goals to make it a game, we are singing a whole different tune this morning. It was the oldest active Ranger, and one of a handful with a Cup, that took the game by the reigns and said enough is enough.
The Rangers youth in this game was its greatest strength in the third period, but it was also its greatest weakness. Confidence in young players is a roller coaster ride, and the roller coaster last night was at its low point. Veterans know how how a bounce here or there, or one key goal, can really elevate a team, and they push for that. Instead of folding under pressure, or putting his head down, Prospal came thrived, and almost single-handedly kept the Rangers from losing.
A team with all youngsters is doomed to fail because there is no one to learn from. A team comprised of all veterans is doomed to fail because there is no youthful jolt of energy. The perfect mix always consists or core young players, and veterans to fill the holes. That’s what the Rangers have now. Their core is almost entirely home grown, and almost all are under the age of 26. They have key veterans playing key roles on the team, and providing leadership to those young kids that will soon become veterans and be leading this team.
As much as fans say the Rangers need to play the youth –wake up, they are–, there also needs to be a balance of veterans on the team to help the kids deal with pressure, and difficult situations. Last night was no different when Prospal took over the second period. Sunday was no different when Bryan McCabe, 35, launched a rocket from the point with less than a second remaining in the first period to tie the game against the Flyers, or when Ruslan Fedotenko scored to give the Rangers the lead. Veterans are what help the kids get through the jitters of playoff type games, and the playoffs…of which the latter are rapidly approaching.