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It was impossible to keep the mind from racing to other topics while watching the Rangers take on the Maple Leafs at the Garden on Monday night.
Two minutes into the game, Brandon Prust dropped the gloves for a fight with Jay Rosehill in the routine act of hockey enforcers setting the tone for a night in the opening beats of a game. Normally it is the kind of thing that barely raises an eyebrow, but it registered differently on Monday.
That's because of the compelling three-part series the Times has been running on the life of the late Derek Boogaard, the Rangers tough guy who died of a drug overdose over the summer.
John Branch spoke to Boogaard's family, teammates, opponents in fights and consulted his diary to get a picture of what happens when you devote your life to fighting on a nightly basis on the ice.
You should read the series, but the spoiler is that it doesn't do anything good to you. Researchers have found that Boogaard had chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a brain condition believed to be caused by repeated blows to the head that has been found in several football players who died early after experiencing serious mental and emotional problems before their deaths.
Watching two guys bash each other in the skull wasn't exactly the best introduction to a night of hockey, then. The uncomfortable feeling returned when Michael Sauer was concussed by Dion Phanneuf on a clean but vicious hit in the third period as the entire Boogaard story makes it hard to simply shrug off the brain injuries these guys suffer for our entertainment.
At any rate, the game continued and, as its their habit, the Rangers fell behind in the first period. Toronto looked fast and the Rangers gave them far too much room to score the first goal of the game.
Unlike other games in the winning streak, the Rangers didn't come back right away and fell behind 3-0 before finally coming to life in the second period. They scored twice to close the gap to one goal, but couldn't draw any closer before an empty net goal ended the five-game winning streak and handed Toronto a 4-2 win.
While the battle was going on at the Garden, the NHL Board of Governors was voting in California to radically change the sport next season. Because the Atlanta Thrashers failed to make it in the Peach State and went back to Winnipeg, the league needed to realign the teams so that the Florida teams weren't sharing a division with a team in Western Canada.
They could have just flipped the Red Wings or Blue Jackets with the Jets to balance things out, but chose the nuclear option instead.
The league will go from six divisions to four conferences (which really seem to be divisions, but whatever) that will play out a lot like the old Patrick, Adams, Norris and Smythe Divisions.
Four teams in each conference will make the playoffs, which could mean teams with better records than playoff participants are left out of the postseason, and the first two rounds will be played entirely within the conferences.
The Rangers have been grouped with the Islanders, Devils, Penguins, Flyers, Capitals and Hurricanes in one of two seven-team conferences while the clubs of what would have once been called the Western Conference will be in two eight-team conferences.
The whole thing has some positives -- increased focus on rivalries with local foes, more sensible travel for teams out west -- and some negatives -- the aforementioned issue with who makes the playoffs, games with Dallas and Nashville meaning as much to Rangers as games with Boston and Montreal -- that will need to work themselves out over time.
Certainly more time than you get in an unmemorable Rangers loss to the Leafs that was, at best, the third-biggest thing going on in the world of Hockey Monday night.