New York City - June 18, 2014 - One shot. One shot in a thrilling double overtime game resulted in heartbreak for the Rangers, thus ending their Stanley Cup aspirations. While Ranger fans everywhere are disappointed by the result, they should also realize that this team was never looked at as possibly getting as far as they did.
This playoff run should be remembered by fans and eventually looked at with a bit of a grin. I want to look back on the season and explain why this team was the typical over-achiever, and although they fell short, we should look on this team with a sense of pride.
At the beginning of the season, this team looked like it was going nowhere. Struggling to stay above .500, this team was full of questions. Add into that the struggles of Lundqvist and many a fan began to wonder whether the Swede had lost a step. They lost badly in many early games and many saw nothing but disappointment in this season. The future looked bleak because that present moment was bleak.
Can anyone point to a single turnaround point for this team? You can’t because the turnaround happened gradually; slowly this team put it together. It looked like it was happening in late October when Brassard and Pouliot got their first points of the season on Brassard’s game-winning, overtime goal to beat the Red Wings.
It looked like it happened during a 3 game win streak in November against Pittsburgh, Columbus, and Florida but they soon fell back to earth. December looked as though the wheels had completely come off the wagon, going 6-7-2. January was completely different, with the Rangers bouncing back, going 10-3-1 that month. There is no one moment that began this shift.
The fact that the one moment that changed the season is so hard to identify is the point; this team began to believe more and more as they went along, finding ways to win without great scoring performances, without the stars scoring with star-like ability.
They went from being under-achievers bound to give us a lackluster season that would probably miss the playoffs completely to becoming a dark horse down the stretch and putting teams on notice. Lundqvist returned to his stellar self, McDonagh emerged as an elite defenseman, the Pouloit-Brassard-Zuccarello line became more effective than the top line….things were just going right for this team.
The playoffs came to town and the first round matched them up against the hated Flyers and in typical Rangers fashion, they traded wins to go the distance and won Game 7. That has been the modus operandi of the team for several years.
The conference semi-final was where the magic happened. They won Game 1 as they usually do, but then lost 3 in a row. The season looked over, Game 5 seemed ceremonial as the Penguins were sure to advance….I guess you can call what happened afterwards was finding some inspiration in tragedy as Martin St. Louis’mother passed away.
He became a leader on the team. When he first arrived in New York, he struggled and scored his first goal 16 games into being a Ranger. The trade for him was constantly questioned. But he was the center of the team and he took on that roll in beautiful fashion. He didn’t do much in Game 5, only generating one shot on goal, but everyone else took something from the heart he showed as the Rangers rolled to a 5-1 win.
Game 6 at the Garden on Mother’s Day (who the hell wrote this script?), it just had to be this way. In a fluke goal, Martin St. Louis scores prompting a response that Doc Emerick put together perfectly with his call, “And who else?”. It just had to be this way. Hagelin and Brassard each scored one more to force Game 7.
With a 2-1 lead that felt as though it would not last, the third period of Game 7 became the Henrik Lundqvist Show as he put on a masterpiece. Henrik Lundqvist turned into a greek god worthy of the Norse Pantheon with Thor and Odin as he kept it 2-1 and sent the Rangers to the Eastern Conference Finals. This was also the first time in Rangers history that the team came back from a 3-1 series deficit.
The underdog role was still the Rangers role and they played the part. The series will be most remembered for Kreider injuring Price and Prust breaking Stepan’s jaw. This overlooks the tremendous play of both goalies (especially Tokarski), the brilliance of the Rangers penalty kill, and the tactical moves to neutralize PK Subban.
With a 2-1 series lead and Game 4 heading into overtime, Montreal held the momentum and it felt as though they would score. The funny thing about hockey is that momentum is a fleeting thing as Hagelin won the puck in a mix up and found St. Louis all alone on the other side of the ice. With deadly precision, he ended the game with a short-side, over the shoulder shot to end it.
Game 5 ended in disaster as Lundqvist was pulled and the Rangers lost 7-4. Ranger fans saw the writing on the wall; this is going 7, the usual. Game 6 became a struggle as neither goaltender was going to blink. Another unlikely hero emerged as Boyle found Moore in front of the net to snap home the winning goal. The man that returned to hockey after his wife died of cancer scored the series clinching goal, kind of poetic when you think about it. The Ranger M.O. of going 7 games was ended as they won in 6.
The journey was long and arduous as the team went to the Final. What made this Final even worse to lose was that the Rangers could have actually won both games at the Staples Center and Game 3 was a game of deflected goals. Heart break on top of more heart break.
In Game 4, the Rangers put their pride on the line and avoided the sweep in typical Rangers fashion, as Lundqvist saved them. Game 5 was an instant classic of a game; 2 overtimes of thrilling action and many chances. Unfortunately, it ended as the Alec Martinez ended the series and congratulations to the Kings for winning it, they completely deserved it.
The Rangers gave us one hell of a ride, and unexpected journey that their fans didn’t expect to go on. Things just seemed to come together somewhere in the middle of the season and the belief of the players and the fans grew more and more.
The Rangers became the ultimate over-achievers. The team looked dead in the water for half the season and was favored in only one series in the playoffs and not by much. They reached heights that people around the league thought impossible.
Unlikely heroes emerged, plotlines were created and thickened, breath-taking and heart pounding moments are now in our minds forever. That is what makes this team, this season, this run so special; they believed.