I'll readily admit that I've thought Sean Avery has gotten a bum rap for much of this season. His suspension and forced anger management for making a comment about two ex-girlfriends was a travesty, and it's ridiculous to watch the way officials treat Avery differently than any other player on the ice. My feelings about him only grew as he helped save the Rangers season down the stretch by giving the team some sorely lacking grit.
Last night's third period converted me to the side of everyone who told me I was nuts, everyone who told me that Avery was a selfish, undisciplined player who could sabotage the whole Ranger effort. Two penalties in the Capitals zone of a one-goal game in the final 10 minutes are the act of a madman, albeit acts of a madman that may serve to help the Rangers in the long run.
The penalty kill after the first Avery penalty could turn out to be the defining moment for the Rangers. Two full minutes in their zone, the most dangerous offensive player in hockey on the opposing side and the Rangers didn't miss a beat. The unit's been good all season, but they became something more last night, a group that said nothing would pass and that effort pulsed through the rest of the third period and helped carry the team to victory.
Not that it's clear that Henrik Lunqvist needs the help. Searching for the right words to describe his performance is futile, he's so good and makes it look so easy that any description would understate his case. That third period was a blueprint for anything and everything the Rangers could hope to accomplish this season.
A defining performance, but not one the Rangers should try to repeat. John Tortorella looked like a man with deep anger for Avery after his second penalty, the kind of anger that could land a man in a much diminished role come Friday night. If he was benched, it wouldn't even be a big shock. For the first time since his return, Avery put himself before the team and that's not something that can happen in the playoffs.
Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City and is a contributor to FanHouse.com and ProFootballTalk.com in addition to his duties for NBCNewYork.com.