BY CHAYIM TAUBER
The New York Rangers haven’t been given a chance to win a single series since they beat the Philadelphia Flyers back in April. They were dead against the Penguins. Most writers wrote them off against Montreal (before the series started).
Derrick Brassard was the Rangers best forward in the early part of this postseason run and then he got hurt. Top-line Center Derek Stepan went down with injury. Henrik had a lifetime of horrors in Montreal. And yet, here the Rangers stand in the Stanley Cup Finals against the Los Angeles Kings – the 2012 Champs, only to once again be written off. Written off everywhere but NY, that is, where the 20th anniversary of the Rangers lone Stanley Cup victory since the end of World War II is conjuring images of glory past. Names like Leetch, Graves, Messier, and Richter have been substituted with McDonagh, Nash, St. Louis, and Henrik. The pulse of the city is at a fever pitch and hockey is dominating the back-page and the radio talk in New York.
The Rangers never own the back-page. They are the second most popular team in their own building, the third winningest hockey team in the Metro-area (despite having been in the league for decades longer). They’re not even the most successful team named the “Rangers” in the last 10 seasons as the Texas Rangers have stolen that crown. Even when the Rangers were on top of the world (’94), the Knicks were in the NBA finals at the same time and OJ Simpson led the cops on a car-chase down the highway. The Rangers have NEVER had a strangle-hold on the city like they do now.
Standing in their way is an opponent that few are picking them to beat. The LA Kings are a team with depth (the Rangers strength), a puck moving defenseman in Drew Doughty, centers that dwarf the Rangers centers, a Power Play that’s completely locked in, and the top pairing in the NHL playoffs in Marian Gaborik and Anze Kopitar. That’s before mentioning that Jonathan Quick, the 2012 Conn Smythe winner and Vezina finalist, will be in goal for the Kings.
The task is a daunting one. Similar to the one the Rangers were facing when they were set to face Montreal (a tough, physical team with depth, a puck moving defenseman that was the star of the postseason to that point, and a world-class goaltender set to lock horns with Henrik).
The NHL Playoffs usually come down to which teams get hot at the right time. The Rangers come into this series well-rested and focused. They’ve rallied around the loss of Martin St. Louis’ mother as well as Dominic Moore’s heartbreaking story. They play desperate; some of the best chances the Rangers got against Montreal were shorthanded. And most importantly, they have the best goaltender in the world, reaching unbelievable heights during this postseason (see that Hasek-esque save in the second period of the clinching game v. Montreal).
The Rangers need to strap them on for one more go-round. They can’t afford to be out-muscled in the corners or in the circle and they need to keep Kopitar out of the middle of the ice. Most importantly the Rangers can’t afford to take the penalties they took against Montreal. They need to stay out of the box and keep the pressure up on Quick, who’s looked remarkably mortal this postseason – particularly in their last series against Chicago.
That’s what it’s come down to for NY – grit, determination, a whole lot of Lundqvist, and the feeling that it’s 1994 again.
“And the New York Rangers, have one more hill to climb…”
Rangers in Seven