It is rare that you see a loss in sports that is as encouraging as it is discouraging, but that's just what happened to the Rangers against the Devils on Wednesday night.
Encouragement came from the way the Rangers controlled play for the lion's share of the evening, pretty much from the third Devils goal until things started getting all helter skelter in the third period before Ryan Carter's game-winning score. The Rangers did all of the things they haven't done this series in terms of puck possession, aggressive play around the net and, especially important after Game Four, staying disciplined even as things didn't go their way.
They also got three goals from their forwards, a welcome change after four games of watching that group play about as ineffectually as humanly possible. Ryan Callahan had the kind of game that makes him the captain of this team and how different the outcome might have been if his second period shot off the post hit at a slightly different angle.
Speaking of how different things could have been, what if Marian Gaborik didn't airmail a wide open net before the Devils' second goal? Gaborik wound up scoring, ending a long drought for the Rangers' leading sniper, and had his strongest game of the period as well.
Taken together, all of that gives the Rangers plenty of reason to believe they can outlast the Devils over the next six (or more) periods of hockey. But the silver lining to this loss has more than a touch of grey.
The Rangers were the better team for most of the night, got a soft goal against Martin Brodeur and had a rowdy Garden urging them on every second. But they still lost the game.
Much or all of that has to do with the fact that they stumbled out of the gate, but there was also the fact that Henrik Lundqvist was a bit more human than he has been over the course of the season. He's not the goat of the game, he's not the only person to blame on the Devils goals and Brodeur probably played worse, but any hint that the Rangers can't count on the King to bail them out is a bad thing.
What's the lesson from all of this for Game Six?
The secret to the Rangers' success on Wednesday night can be found in the way the Rangers played when they fell behind 3-0. They opened things up much more than they have at other points in the season and the offense came along for the ride.
That's not the way John Tortorella wants the Rangers to play, as evidenced by the way they went back into a shell after tying the game at three. That helped set up New Jersey's winner because a tentative Ranger team is exactly what the Devils want to see when they set up their strong forecheck.
Letting things fly in Game Six probably won't be the Rangers' course of action, but it might not hurt to come out of the locker room feeling like they are down by a couple of goals instead of actually spotting them to the Devils. That said, the last time the Rangers played the Devils in Jersey in an Eastern Conference Game Six they were able to come back from 2-0 down for the win.
Any chance Mark Messier wants to lace 'em up one more time?