The Empire State Building shined high above the city in a beautiful hue of Rangers’ blue as 18,000 fans poured out onto the mezzanine of MSG Saturday night after the Rangers’ game 7 win over the Washington Capitals. Sirens blared as an orchestra of car horns sounded, not out of typical NYC hostility but, rather, in celebration of the New York Rangers having clinched a spot in the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1997. Countless people made their way towards The Garden—from inside the bars, apartments, from their planned sightseeing ventures to this new and unexpected spectacle hammering onto the city streets—some to partake in the festivities outside the arena, and others to merely observe and enjoy. The collection of countless voices stirred up chants of “We want The Cup!,” “Let’s go Rangers!,” and even the occasional, antagonistic, sing-song “Marty” chant in anticipation of Monday’s series opener against the Devils in a battle to play for The Stanley Cup.
There is a certain pessimism that comes along with being a Rangers fan and, generally, the longer the tenure with the team, the stronger that pessimistic outlook seems to be. But even the most callous of Rangers fans must be feeling a not-so-humble sense of optimistic pride with having seen what this group has accomplished, endured and overcome throughout the course of this season.
There have been few aspects of this Cup run which have not come under some focused scrutiny over the past 14 games—lack of scoring, coaching, defense, and, most surprising to me, even goaltending at times. But one feature that should not be questioned by anyone who has followed this group closely is the teams’ heart. Whether it’s winning two elimination games in a row when all seemed but lost, scoring a tying goal with six seconds left to make way for a memorable OT winner, or this last game 7 victory after a fruitless effort in game 6, this Rangers team always seems to find a way when their backs are up against the wall. The resilience of this young group, led by a few key, seasoned veterans, is something that all blue-blooded fans should revel in and marvel at.
In these first 14 games of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the NY Rangers have never allowed more than 3 goals—a feat never before accomplished in the history of the NHL. But even with this amazing display of defensive proficiency it has still taken the Rangers all 7 games in each of the first two rounds to emerge the victor. This should come as no surprise to anyone who has watched this team struggle all season to score goals in numbers—in fact, the Rangers failed to score more than two goals in over 30 games this year but still managed to win the East during the regular season. This is due, in large part, to the team having bought into the defensive system which coach Tortorella, love him or hate him, brought in when he took over behind the bench and, of course, the Vezina worthy play of Henrik Lundqvist who has posted a 1.68 GAA and a .937 SV% so far in these playoffs. As important as goaltending is to any Cup contender, it should comfort many that the Rangers arguably have the best in the biz in Lundqvist who has been nothing short of amazing all season long and in the postseason.
The Rangers rank 11th in offense for these playoffs and are last among the remaining four teams while the Kings and Devils average nearly a goal a game more than the Blueshirts while the Coyotes aren’t far behind. The saving grace in all of this is of course their solid defensive play where they rank second in these playoffs, better than 14 other qualifying teams and trailing only the LA Kings out West.
It is an often restated cliché that in the playoffs a teams’ best players need to be their best players, and within that tune the Rangers, for the most part, have followed the drum. Brad Richards, who was brought to New York most specifically for his outstanding playoff résumé, has not disappointed—he leads the team with 11 points (6 goals, 5 assists) and has been competent in every zone, playing solid defensively while being the key contributor offensively. Marion Gaborik, who has been the subject of much debate along these lines, is second on the team with 10 points (4 goals, 6 assists), and while he hasn’t exactly lived up to many fans’ expectations of him after displaying elite scoring prowess during the regular season, he has also played extremely well in all three zones, and has been a catalyst for much of the Rangers offense, never taking a shift off. While the results haven’t always been there, his effort and resolve, with rare exception, have been. And, most importantly, what can one say about Henrik Lundqvist that hasn’t already been said? Hank has been Hank and, in simplistic terms, this team will go as far as he takes them.
As opposed to key players, of whom much is expected, such as Richards and Gaborik, Lundqvist simply cannot afford to have an off game—he needs to be the Rangers best player game-in and game-out, and thus far he has been exactly that and there’s no reason to expect any different moving on.
There have obviously been many other contributors to this playoff run, including Michael Del Zotto and Derek Stepan who each have 8 points—(2 goals, 6 assists) and (1 goal, 7 assists) respectively; Danny Girardi, who has a goal and six assists; and, captain Ryan Callahan (3 goals, 3 assists) who has seemed unusually quiet, but plays the same gritty style of hockey every shift of every game—and while the results may vary, his efforts almost never do. Anisimov (2 goals, 4 assists) has been the same ineffectual player he had been for most of the regular season with a lack of productivity despite a terrific skill set which fans only rarely get to see, yet he does lead the Rangers in shooting percentage with two goals on twelve shots—Richards leads the team with 55 shots, while Gaborik and Callahan each have 41.
It has been great to watch the Rangers D men play solid shut-down hockey while also contributing on the scoreboard—Rangers defenseman have combined for 26 points through these first 14 games, with only Stu Bickel not having scored a point thus far.
Looking ahead to what should be yet another amazing series, the Rangers will face the New Jersey Devils in a 1994 Eastern Conference Finals rematch, which anyone who is old enough to remember will never forget. One can only hope that this series holds some of the magic that that series did, and, in the end, has the same result: the New York Rangers earning a place in the Stanley Cup Finals, and for the first time since that epic series ended, at that. But one only needs to look at some “now and then” pictures of Marty Brodeur to realize that 1994 was a long time ago, and that this is the 2012 New York Rangers who hold a magic that is entirely their own. I am as proud of this group as I was of that one and I wait in anticipation with Rangers fans across the globe for the puck to drop Monday night. In the meantime, the Empire State Building radiates proudly above the city in the colors of our beloved team. Say it loud, say it proud: WE WANT THE CUP! LET’S GO RANGERS!
You can contact me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on Twitter @mphurwitz. Keep the faith fellow Rangers! LGR!
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