The Official Guide To Being A New York Rangers Bandwagon Fan

If Snooki can jump on the Rangers’ Bandwagon so can you!

Let me make this clear: I hate bandwagon fans.

When New York football fans jumped on the Jets’ bandwagon during the 2009 season, rode it through January 2011, and then leaped across town to the Giants’ this past January, it enraged me. That’s why sports fans around the country hate New Yorkers. There are nine teams in the New York metropolitan area that participate in the four major pro sports, so when you have multiple opportunities to win a championship every season, you’re bound to have more success.

That’s not how it should be. You pick a team when you’re young. You give your heart and soul to that team, and maybe, someday, they will reward you for the time, energy and money you invest in them. And if you’re never able to cash that check, then too bad. You picked a shit team. Better luck next time.

***

Hockey is different, though. It boasts a small yet rabid, passionate and intensely loyal fan base. In the New York-New Jersey area there are three hockey teams, but in reality there is only one. You’re only a Devils fan if you enjoy being a total douche (or you’re David Puddy), and you’re an Islanders fan if…yeah, that’s a skeleton you should keep in your closet.

New York’s hockey team is the Rangers. They are unique to New York (I’m Ron Burgundy?). When people jump on the Rangers’ bandwagon they are hopping on it from a point of indifference, not from another team’s. What makes it more tolerable, as well, is the fact the Rangers aren’t the Yankees, nor are they even the Giants. They have the class and nobility of those teams (Original Six club, wear classic uniforms, play in a famous building), but they also have the tortured history of the Mets and Jets (one championship in the past 71 years). If you’ve jumped on the Rangers’ bandwagon during this playoff run, you aren’t doing so with the expectation of winning a title, but rather because, as we’ve said in the past, playoff hockey incarcerates your heart and mind for its duration. You’re a prisoner, not a front-runner.

And since hockey die-hards love when the casual sports fan becomes infatuated with their beautiful game, Rangers supporters will be happy to punch your ticket aboard the Blueshirts Bandwagon!

So whether tonight is the first hockey game you’ve ever watched or you just want to go to a bar and get drunk and talk sports, here is your Official Guide To Being a New York Rangers Bandwagon Fan.

***

Bandwagon Fan: OK, let’s start off simple. How many quarters are there in a game? How long is halftime?

The Garden Faithful: Wow. This is going to take longer than I expected.

OK. There are three, 20-minute PERIODS in a hockey game. There are 17-minute intermissions between those periods, so in effect, there are two halftimes. Unless the game goes to sudden death overtime (where the first team to score a goal wins), the games usually take a little more than 2.5 hours.

Bandwagon Fan: Jeez, alright. Who is the Rangers’ best player?

The Garden Faithful: That’s an easy one. It’s their goalie, Henrik Lundqvist. The 30-year old Swede is not only the Rangers’ best player, but arguably the NHL’s best player, as well. Lundqvist will likely win the Vezina Trophy (the award for the league’s best goalie) and is nominated for the Hart Trophy (the league’s MVP), to boot.

Lundqvist is a historically great talent, who with the aid of a Stanley Cup, will go down as the greatest goalie in the Rangers’ 86-year history. That is not hyperbole. Lundqvist is the first goalie in NHL history to begin his career with seven-straight, 30+ win seasons, and this year set career-highs in wins, goals against average (how many goals he allows per game), and save percentage—the three most important stats for a goalie.

If that all isn’t enough, Lundqvist is impossibly handsome. Men and women alike become short of breath when his impossibly blue eyes make contact with the television camera.

Following an episode of HBO’s 24/7 (the “reality show” that followed the team around in December), I wrote this about Lundqvist. I’m sure you’ll agree…

“When Henrik came on screen I felt the emotion little girls must have felt in 1964 when The Beatles came to America. I just wanted to start screaming and grasping for the TV, and subsequently, I almost passed out.”

And he plays the guitar like Hendrix (slight exaggeration). And he married his longtime girlfriend and he’s expecting his first child this summer. (He may or may not have planned the pregnancy around a long playoff run; we like to think he did.)

Bandwagon Fan: Who is the team’s captain? Tell me about him.

The Garden Faithful: Their captain is Ryan Callahan. He is a 27-year old native of Rochester, New York, and as the saying goes, “he leads by example.” While Cally, as he is called, did score a career-high 29 goals this season, he is more of a defensive forward, blocking 88 shots and amassing 271 hits, good for fifth in the NHL.

Callahan has come under some criticism in recent days, however. While his defensive effort is unquestioned, and his kamikaze-style penalty kill in the third period of Game 5 against the Capitals may have saved the Rangers season, his two points in the seven-game series are below what fans expect of him and the team requires of him. Is it possible his grinding, give it a 1,000%-playing style has left him physically drained after 90 games of hockey (he missed six due to injury)? Very possibly. But if the Rangers are going to go where they want to, they need Cally to score more.

Bandwagon Fan: Their head coach?

The Garden Faithful: If Napoleon and Bill Parcells had a baby, he’d be the Rangers head coach, John Tortorella. Standing at a reported 5-foot-6 on a good day, with a fungus-infected right thumbnail, Torts is one of the angriest men you will ever meet. You rarely, if ever, see him smile, and when he’s not cursing up a storm on the bench, well, he’s simply saying nothing, staring down the eyes of a referee who has wronged his team.

Most reporters would rip a head coach for stonewalling their press conferences, but Torts has developed a weird respect with the New York media, with many writers stating, “Yeah it makes our jobs more difficult (that he doesn’t answer any of our questions), but hey, it’s an absolute scene.”

Torts hasn’t ALWAYS been quiet. He’s been fined by the NHL on many occasions, most recently for this rant against the Pittsburgh Penguins. But before Torts’ wife and accountant told him to shut his mouth, he also had these legendary meltdowns.

He’s a character to say the least.

Bandwagon Fan: Do they have a mascot? I LOVE mascots! Does he throw t-shirts to the fans in between periods? I LOVE t-shirts!

The Garden Faithful: No, the Rangers thankfully do not have a mascot. But yes, much to my chagrin, they throw out t-shirts. The closest thing the Rangers have ever come to having a mascot was “The Chief,” a legendary Ranger fan who from roughly 1971 to 1995 wore a full Indian headdress complete with Rangers facepaint, and would “wander around Madison Square Garden shaking hands, whooping and doing a war dance.” Chief retired sometime in the mid-90′s, citing the Rangers’ Stanley Cup victory as the reason for his departure. The real reason he retired, however, has never been confirmed. Some fans say the Cleveland Indians offered him a full-time job, others say he developed split personalities and joined a Native American tribe, while most claim he ran for New York State Senate, lost, moved to Florida and died in January. None of those theories have been confirmed.

Now, we have “Dancing Larry.” Prior to the lockout (2004-05), Larry was known as “Homo Larry,” but thanks to people north of the Mason-Dixon Line coming to their senses, that derogatory nicknamed has faded away. Now, Larry is something of a rallying figure, as he dances in section 407 late in the third periods of games to the song, “Strike It Up” by Black Box. Even die-hard fans have fallen for Larry and his good luck charm. My father, a season-ticket holder since 1968, said after Larry danced prematurely (the 2nd period) during Game 7 versus Ottawa, “Larry in the second period? Man, they’re going to the well early tonight.”

Oh, and you hate the Dancing Grandma. She’s disgusting and annoying and you’re allowed to boo her off the big screen. It’s encouraged, in fact.

Bandwagon Fan: Who are WE playing?

The Garden Faithful: The New Jersey Devils.

Bandwagon Fan: Who is their most hated player?

The Garden Faithful: That’s a no-brainer. Their goalie, Martin Brodeur. The 40-year old Brodeur is considered by many to be the greatest goalie in NHL history and rightfully so. He has won three Stanley Cups and four Vezina Trophies, a resume almost no goaltender in league history can match. But despite his great success, he has struggled against the Blueshirts when it matters most.

Brodeur lost to the Rangers in the 1994 Easter Conference Finals and the 1997 Eastern Conference semi-finals (Brodeur’s best NHL season), and since Henrik took Broadway, The King (Lundqvist) has compiled a 23-7-5 record against, who Sean Avery once called, Fatso. Maaaaaarty, as he is “affectionately” called by Rangers fans, also has an interesting family history.

According to Urban Dictionary, a “Martin Brodeur” is, “When one decides to sleep with his sister-in-law, then divorces his wife so he can marry the sister-in-law and make his ex-wife his (new) sister-in-law.”

That’s right. BRODEUR SLEPT WITH HIS SISTER-AND-LAW AND THEN MARRIED HER, AND HE HAS CHILDREN WITH BOTH WOMEN. How’s that for an awkward Mother’s Day? Your mom is your aunt. Your aunt is your mom. Just call the psychiatrist now.

So yes, he deserves every insulting chant thrown his way during the series.

Bandwagon Fan: The Rangers are the highest-ranked team of the remaining four clubs, right? This should be easy, no?

The Garden Faithful: Yes and no. Yes, they are the highest “ranked” team, as they sport the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, but unlike most 1-seeds, the Rangers are NOT a dominant club. They win by grinding and tiring the opponent out, scoring the timely goal, and then, once they have a lead, playing great defense and letting Henrik take them home. It’s an effective style that wins games, but it is by no means high-scoring or entertaining.

The Rangers beat the two lowest seeds in the East in two grueling seven-game series, both of which they could have easily lost. If they do not play a perfect game, they will not win. There is no margin for error, especially in the playoffs.

Bandwagon Fan: Let me guess: The Rangers got the 1-seed by spending the most money. Typical New York.

The Garden Faithful: No, you fool. There is a salary cap in the NHL, meaning the Rangers can’t simply buy a championship how the Yankees (and Manchester City) do. In fact, the NHL instituting a salary cap was good for the Rangers because it made them focus on scouting and drafting rather than signing old, overpriced free agents to monster contracts. Here is an unofficial list of the Rangers’ 10 most important players this postseason and how they got them.

1. Henrik Lundqvist: Draft; 2. Marc Staal: Draft; 3. Brad Richards: Free Agent; 4. Dan Girardi: Draft (undrafted free agent); 5. Marian Gaborik: Free Agent; 6. Ryan McDonagh: Trade; 7. Ryan Callahan: Draft; 8. Carl Hagelin: Draft; 9. Michael Del Zotto: Draft; 10. Chris Kreider: Draft.

That’s 7 draft, 2 free agents, 1 trade. Pretty impressive stuff. They’re a very young team.

Bandwagon Fan: When was the last time they won a Stanley Cup? Did anything really crazy happen that year?

The Garden Faithful: 1994. And yes, REALLY CRAZY shit happened. Like the most clutch performance in sports history and one of the greatest hockey games ever played. (Watch from minute 29:35 through 35:02. Yes, the Rangers needed to beat the Devils and Brodeur to advance to the finals that year, too.)

Bandwagon Fan: When things go badly, who is the guy the fans turn on? There’s always that guy. Who is he?

The Garden Faithful: That can be debated. The standard picks are usually Mike Rupp on offense (he’s a big, lumbering oaf that can barely skate and has NO skill), and occasionally Del Zotto on defense when he makes one of his egregious turnovers in the defensive end.

Overall it is a VERY well-liked team, though.

Bandwagon Fan: I always hear fans whistling at the games, and then they yell, “Let’s Run Trucks!” What the hell does that mean?

The Garden Faithful: They’re chanting “Potvin (pronounced “Pot-Van”) Sucks!” you idiot. Here’s your explanation.

Bandwagon Fan: If I’m ever in a social setting watching them play, what are some lines I can say to sound smart? And what shouldn’t I say?

The Garden Faithful: Good question. What you should say is…

If the Rangers are winning…”As long as Henrik plays this way we can’t lose!”

At any point in the game…”Gotta get the next goal or we’re screwed.”

If Brad Richards scores a goal: “He’s worth every penny of that contract!”

If the team isn’t scoring…”Gaborik has been invisible! Where is he??”

If they sit on the lead and it’s a one-goal game with 10 minutes left in the third period: “Where is the nearest toilet?”

If Del Zotto is still getting ice time after a bad mistake but Torts benches another guy who in comparison made a very small error: “There’s no accountability with Torts. He plays favorites!”

If Rupp is on the ice: “Why is there a giant glacier on the ice?”

If the Rangers are ahead 5-0 and dominating the game: …That’s not going to happen. Don’t worry.

What you shouldn’t say is…

On other players…”That Sidney Crosby really plays the game the right way. So much class and honor. He NEVER complains or dives. A real warrior.”

On Brodeur…”Say what you want, but Brodeur is better than Mike Richter and Henrik COMBINED!”

If the Rangers take an early lead…”This is going to be easy.”

On the referees…”I just think it’s rude to chant “Assss-hole!” after a bad call.”

If the Rangers are losing late in the third period…”Oh well. It’s just a game, right? Let’s go meet my friends for a drink! They’re at a club near The Garden. RAGER!”

Bandwagon Fan: Do the Rangers players have really hot wives and girlfriends (WAGS)?

The Garden Faithful: They’re professional athletes being paid millions of dollars and they live in New York City. Next question…

Bandwagon Fan: Fine, be a dick about it. Umm, do they have an official victory song? I need to memorize the lyrics!

The Garden Faithful: Yes, they do. There’s the Rangers’ traditional victory song (which sounds like it should be the music to a “Bugs Bunny Goes To Washington” cartoon where he waves to droves of adoring fans in front of the Washington Monument).

And then there’s the Rangers’ Hey We’re So Cool And Love Going To Raves and Hooking Up With Coeds Who Are Wearing Highlighters All Over Their Faces And Clothes And Think They’re Modern Day Hippies But In Reality They Are Just Rich White Girls With Nothing To Do victory song.

(No, but really. I now love this song and in turn this kind of music ONLY because I have a positive association with it. Calvin Harris is my idol and a first-ballot Reggie Cleveland All-Star. I listen to “Feel So Close” and the last four minutes and 49 seconds of Sigur Ros’ “Festival,” the song from the end of 24/7, before every playoff game (I see them winning the Cup to that song in my mind’s eye). I’m not superstitious.))

It usually stops at the :36 second mark and breaks into Avicii’s “Levels.” It’s not quite the ’99 Mets’ “L.A. Woman,” but it’s good.

The Garden Faithful: That’s all the time we have folks. Please pass along this document to all the bandwagon Rangers fans you know. If you’re only now starting to watch our boys play at least start watching with a good head on your shoulders.

Whether this ride ends in incomprehensible disappointment next Monday or with a parade down The Canyon of Heroes in mid-June, strap in tight and enjoy the ride. We have no idea where it’s going.

Prediction: Rangers in 7; it’d be dumb to predict anything else at this point.

Blood, Sweat, and Tears. Fer Real.

I can’t pinpoint when it happened. If I had to guess I’d say it was midway through the second overtime. But when it happened, there was no denying it. The Rangers had taken control of the game. The Capitals looked physically and emotionally spent. The Rangers appeared to be entering another gear. It was as if after 90 minutes of hockey the Rangers finally realized, “Hey, we’re the best team in the Eastern Conference. We’re the best team left in the playoffs. We’re better than the Capitals. Let’s go win this fackin’ thing.”

And so they did. At 12:14 a.m., almost five hours after the longest Rangers game since March 21, 1939, had begun, Marian Gaborik gave the Blueshirts a 2-1 series lead.

And my God did it feel amazing.

I know it’s only a game and blah blah blah, but last night was different. I was an emotional and physical wreck for the final four periods of that marathon. I sweated through my clothing but at the same time needed a blanket because I was freezing. I was impossibly thirsty but did not have the appetite to drink or eat anything. When Gabby scored I wanted to yell and celebrate but I did not have the voice or energy to do so. I fell to my knees, laid on the ground, and realized it was truly a miracle that Ryan McDonagh was still alive. Mac Truck is less than six months my elder, but it’s safe to say if I played 50+ minutes of hockey in one night, against some of the best athletes in the world, and was hit so hard (by Matt Hendricks) that my body was nearly split in half, I would not have survived.

But Mac Truck persevered, and so did the Rangers. Henrik broke his streak of playoff overtime losses, Gabby broke his goal drought, and the Rangers broke the collective will of the Washington Capitals.

Was last night a great moment in a bittersweet story or a beautiful chapter in a perfect novel? It’s too early to say, but in the wee hours of Thursday morning, on this May 3, 2012, it’s hard to see anything or anyone stopping the New York Rangers.

“I lick my chops…”

Where to begin? Well, how about where we started the first round. It rings more true by the day…

“We can’t wait for warm spring nights on the Hicksville train station platform, useless white towels that we use to clean up our dogs’ piss, and insufferable trials of sudden death overtime. It’s all a part of what makes the NHL season so enthralling, as the temperature rises the season reaches a pulsating crescendo, and the smells of early spring and intensity of Garden crowds leave you knowing exactly what time of year it is. It’s playoff hockey and when your team is at the center of the madness, it incarcerates your heart and mind for its duration.”

How many times have you watched the third period of Game Seven? I’m at four, and with each viewing I gain a greater appreciation for what we experienced last night. I was concerned the absolute hysterics that engulfed the Garden in the final 12 seconds wouldn’t translate to TV, but it absolutely did. Winning a big game in the regular season is fun. You cheer. You high-five. You smile. It’s two points in the standings.

Winning a Game Seven in the playoffs. At home. In a one-goal game. That’s something completely different. I absolutely LOST my shit in the game’s final moments. And I wasn’t alone. It was an out-of-body experience, something I will never forget. I was there for the clincher versus Atlanta in Game Four in ’07 and while that was fun, last night was unforgettable. I’m so grateful I got to experience it with my family and several members of The Garden Faithful.

(Not to mention the postgame celebration at The Flying Puck. I know it’s a cliche, but the beer actually tasted like water. It’s amazing the effect a celebratory mindset has on your ability to imbibe alcohol.)

As for the game itself, it wasn’t a dominating effort by any means, but that’s who the Rangers are. They score a couple goals, defend, grind, block shots, and when pucks do get on net, they have the best goalie in the world there to stop them. It was the 2011-12 Rangers in a nutshell. Is it good for the heart? No, it’s terrible. Is it a winning formula? Through 89 games, yes, it is.

Certain performances stick out. Henrik was his usual brilliant self, but for me, Marc Staal had his best game of the season. He had been improving every game since he returned from post-concussion syndrome on Jan. 2, but last night was the first time he reached “lockdown” status in my opinion. He was a rock behind the blue line, not to mention scoring the game’s first goal in the second period.

And then there was Chris Kreider. Even the biggest “Chris” fan (he’s the first player in NHL history to be called by his first name in the locker room) could not have imagined him getting crunch-time minutes in Game Seven of a playoff series, but that’s exactly what he did. “Chris” was the Rangers best forward on the ice for long stretches of the game, winning loose puck after loose puck and showing speed that very few NHL players exhibit. When other Rangers forecheck they grind in the corner, fall down, get up, grind some more. When “Chris” forechecks he wins the puck and then just skates around the rink. He was playing at a different speed than everyone else last night.

There is no statistical or visceral way of measuring if Rick Nash would have a more positive impact on this team than “Chris,” but at the moment, Rangers fans have to be pretty happy they held on to this guy.

As Torts said following the game, “I lick my chops for the future for those two kids (“Chris” and Hagelin).” (What a dawg!)

Oh, and everyone criticizing Richards and Gaborik for being “invisible” last night should take it easy. Yes, it wasn’t their best games, but Richards was an absolute force in Game Six, quarterbacking the power plays that saved the Rangers season. As for Gaborik, he didn’t contribute much to this series outside of his Game One goal, but if the Rangers are going to play into mid-June, Gaborik will have his moment. Just be happy they won a series with him only scoring once. That bodes well for future round(s).

***

Enough about that, let’s talk about the Capitals! I’m absolutely thrilled the Penguins and Bruins are out, but no series the Rangers play the rest of the way will be easy. The Caps will be no exception. This may have been the worst regular season of the Ovie Caps playoff era, but sometimes teams like that—after a string of playoff failures as the favorite— go on their “run” when you least expect it (see: 2005 Steelers, 2006 Colts, 2006 St. Louis Cardinals). Those types of runs happen least frequently in the NHL, but it’s definitely a trend to be aware of.

Braden Holtby. I don’t know. Is he legit? Did the Bruins not get enough good shots on net? He did let up a couple softies. I saw him play with the Hershey Bears in November when they played the Whale. He spent most of that night being heckled by the 400 people, 200 of whom were drunk, at the XL Center, at times responding to their insults with a “I can’t hear you” look on his face. The Whale won that night, and I have a hard time believing the losing goalie from that night’s contest will be the man whom ends the 2011-12 New York Rangers season.

For that reason, I’m going Rangers in 6.

Everyone else on the blog agrees with my prediction (I nailed Rangers in 7 vs. Ottawa, by the way!), except the always pessimistic Jason Ward who says Caps in 7, stating they’re just a more talented version of the Senators with a better home-ice advantage.

I can’t disagree with his reasoning, and that’s why this series will be so entertaining/impossibly stressful and unenjoyable.

Before we finish, here are some wonderful similarities between the 1994 and 2012 NHL Playoffs.

-The Rangers were the 1 seed.
-The Rangers played the No. 7 seed Capitals in the 2nd round.
-The Devils won their first round series in 7 games.
-The No. 1 seed in the West was knocked out in the first round.
-The Penguins lost their first round series in 6 games.
-The last game of the first round ended in double overtime.

Let’s hope we can add “The New York Rangers won the Stanley Cup” to that list in a few weeks.

I’m Going to Cry: The 2011-12 NHL Playoffs

Please?

On Jan. 30, in this space, I wrote:

“We can’t wait for warm spring nights on the Hicksville train station platform, useless white towels that we use to clean up our dogs’ piss, and insufferable trials of sudden death overtime. It’s all a part of what makes the NHL season so enthralling, as the temperature rises the season reaches a pulsating crescendo, and the smells of early spring and intensity of Garden crowds leave you knowing exactly what time of year it is. It’s playoff hockey and when your team is at the center of the madness, it incarcerates your heart and mind for its duration.”

At the time I penned that graf I was a dreamer. The playoffs were not a reality, simply a faraway idea that was fun to fantasize about. Now, less than 72 hours away from the most anticipated NHL postseason of my life (I was just starting to wipe my own ass in April 1994), I’m terrified. I don’t want to think about it, let alone write about it.

My fear is not borne from the chance I jinx the Rangers—I wish I had that kind of power—but rather something much deeper. Something that I’ve never experienced in my 15 or so years following the Rangers: I’m in love.

***

There is no definition of love. It is one of the most ambiguous terms in the English language, a feeling and emotion that people can spend their entire lives trying to identify and feel. As it is often said about matters so visceral, when you finally experience it, you’ll know you’ve found it.

And that’s how I feel about the 2011-12 New York Rangers. I thought I loved the ’96-97 Rangers; I loved Bugs Bunny. I thought I loved the ’05-06 Rangers; I loved not having a losing team. I thought I loved the ’10-11 Rangers; I loved what I knew was to come.

The ’11-12 Rangers? I love them. I began falling for the team in late December, as 24/7 made the players “real” people who we could relate to. We saw them leaving on “business trips” saying goodbye to their wives and children, commuting to work on the subway, and eating dinner together how you do with your family and friends. They suddenly transformed from celebrities to ordinary dudes (well, most of them anyway; Henrik will always be royalty), guys you could relate to on an everyday basis. And then they started winning, kept winning, and did not stop winning. I’d be lying if I said winning doesn’t foster adoration, but in the case of this team, a five-seed and no home-ice advantage would not change how I feel about them. There were obviously bumps in the road, but those obstacles only made me love them more. I’ve never felt a team care as much about the fans as we do about them. With this team, I know the love is mutual.

“It’s been an honor to wear this jersey for three years… I mean, how blessed are we to be able to do it here in this city?… It’s a hard feeling to describe, you get goose bumps… The guys in this room, the fans, the city we are in, it’s pretty surreal sometimes. I gotta pinch myself. We are fortunate to be here.” –Brian Boyle

Case. In. Point.

***

Getting back to what I said earlier, yeah, I’m terrified. I ripped at least 20 nervous farts at work during the third period of the division-clinching game against the Flyers, so I’m downright scared to know what will happen in a playoff overtime. I’m getting that nervous pit in my stomach just writing this. Will the Rangers play too tentatively in a sudden-death situation? I can easily see them splitting the first six games of the Ottawa series, losing all three games in overtime. Ugh. See? I can’t do this.

With that said, I feel anything less than a conference finals appearance is a disappointment. If the first round plays out how many of us anticipate, with the Rangers, Bruins, Penguins and Devils advancing, there’s no reason the Rangers can’t win seven-game series against Ottawa and New Jersey. Once you get to a final four with Pittsburgh and presumably some combination of Vancouver, St. Louis, Nashville and Detroit, you can’t expect to win. You can be optimistic, but an expectation of victory would not be fair.

Reasons I’m Optimistic for a Long Playoff Run: Henrik, Callahan’s clutchness, Gabby’s consistency, Not Their First Rodeo mentality, stud defensemen, willing to play physically, effective penalty kill, home-ice advantage, gutsy team, great chemistry, respond well to adversity.

Reasons I’m Making Vacation Plans for Memorial Day Weekend: Henrik post-first round failures, lack of scoring depth, Torts giving Rupp big minutes, fatigue, referees, NHL rooting for Penguins, blocking too many shots, still too young, Torts outcoaching himself.

Will the positives outweigh the negatives? I’m not sure. Will my nervous poops outweigh the Stanley Cup? Probably.

Will I cry when the playoffs are over? Absolutely. Win or lose.

I’ll always love the 2011-12 New York Rangers.

First Round Predictions

Thomas Pock: Rangers in 7

Anson Carter: Rangers in 6

Jamie Lundmark: Rangers in 6

Petr Nedved: Rangers in 5

Jason Ward: Senators in 6

Ward’s explanation: Heart says Rangers, brain says Sens. The formula for regular season success of “grind it out hockey” will not translate to wins in the postseason. Spezza, Karlsson, Alfredsson, and Michalek trump the Rangers’ top talent. In tight playoff games I just don’t see the Rangers being able to put the biscuit in the basket when it matters.

Does John Tortorella Coach #TheRightWay? Part II

As promised—and I’m sure you were eagerly awaiting it—PART II of our Q & A with Tampa Bay Lightning blogger, John Fontana, on whether or not John Tortorella coaches #TheRightWay.

But first, the best cameo in Public Service Announcement history!

Q: How responsible was Torts for turning St. Louis into a superstar and for helping Richards mature into a Conn Smythe winner? Did they emerge as stars thanks to Torts or in spite of him?

A: Every coach who oversees skilled players is, in part, responsible for their success and failings. To insinuate otherwise is to think a coach’s responsibility is simply setting the lineup.

Let me throw back this question at you: Marian Gaborik is the Rangers offensive star, who started his career in Minnesota and had repetitive groin and leg issues. He joined the New York Rangers, and under Tortorella those issues have abated even though the Madison Square Garden ice is considered the worst playing surface in the league. Is Tortorella’s “Camp Torturella” training regimen responsible, in part, for helping Gaborik strengthen problematic muscles and avoid injury? Or is he just in a better place because he’s playing in New York and not Minnesota?

How dare you to try to jinx our Glorious Gabby?!?! Who do you think you are?!? I’m not even going to answer that question in fear of angering the Hockey Gods.

Dear Hockey Gods,

We know Gabby is injury-prone and we fully accept his fate. With that said, please keep his groin, hip and shoulder muscles intact until mid-June. Thank you.

-The Garden Faithful

(With that said, you probably have a point. I wouldn’t fully credit Torts for keeping Gaborik on the ice, but I’m sure it has helped his conditioning. His overall play on the ice? It has remained on par with how he performed in Minnesota when healthy.)

Q: Did Torts have a hard-on for Fedotenko before his two goals in Game Seven of the Finals? Rangers fans are convinced if Torts is here in 2020, Feds will still be getting crunch-time minutes.

A: Ruslan Fedotenko played under John Tortorella in Tampa, as you know. Rusty (Ed’s Note: Rusty! Who knew?!?) knows Torts system, Rusty can play within the system effectively and spread that knowledge around to his teammates. It’s not because Fedotenko gives Tortorella a hard-on, it’s because he’s playing a role in Torts gameplan.

Q: What did Lightning fans think of Torts? What ticked you guys off the most about him? I’m sure the feeling was more positive in ’04 than by the time he was fired in ’08, but what was the overall feeling towards him? And how did the media feel about him?

A: He was beloved.

Oh, was John Tortorella abrasive? Yeah. Could he be a dick? Sure. Did he ever rub fans the wrong way? Yeah, but it wasn’t 2007-08 (which I’ll elaborate on below), it was 2001-02 when John was coaching his first season in Tampa. He took Vinny Lecavalier’s captaincy away (after Lecavalier’s contract holdout to start the season) and put Lecavalier in the doghouse to a point Lecavalier wanted out of town. Yeah, fans sided with the franchise player – but Torts won out, and won the backing of ownership who refused to trade Vinny.

Not only did Torts win out, but Lecavalier himself admits he’s a better player thanks to what he went through with Tortorella that season. Problems were too often personnel related from 2005-06 until the end of Torts tenure in Tampa. That failing wasn’t on Torts so much as it was on horrible drafting, bad decisions by GM Jay Feaster and circumstances beyond both men’s control.

Q: Why did Torts fall out of favor in Tampa Bay? Was his personality too abrasive? Did the team quit on him? Did management and fans simply get tired of his stubbornness? Describe the break-up between him and the Lightning.

A: Hockey. That’s it in a nutshell. THAT’S why John Tortorella was dismissed in Tampa Bay after the 2007-08 season – the incoming ownership group (one of the most impulsively asinine ownership groups that the NHL has seen in the modern era).

You see, Torts got canned, but you miss the entire story of the season: Ownership was in limbo from August 7, 2007, until around the trade deadline in 2008. That means the team could not take on or subtract any significant payroll and change the franchises value. That means personnel problems could only be addressed with minor league reserves. And the prospects who were promoted to Tampa were not going to cure the broader ills of the Lightning (see: Goaltending).

Tortorella had to coach with what he had. Jay Feaster couldn’t make a trade. Basically everyone had to suffer that season: players, coaching, management, and the fans.

Did John Tortorella fall out of favor with the fans or the media? We were used to his antics and embraced it. He missed the playoffs only two times in his seven seasons as head coach of the Lightning: 2001-02 and 2007-08.

Now let’s finish this history lesson: Rumors started in March 2008 that the incoming ownership group wanted to bring in Barry Melrose as the head coach (a guy who hadn’t coached in the league in a decade). Torts’ fate was not sealed by his style, coaching, lack of results, or some public gaffe. His fate was sealed by the incoming owners (Oren Koules and Len Barrie, also known as “The Cowboys”) that were planning to turn the Tampa Bay Lightning into their own personal fantasy hockey team.

Melrose, their hand-picked coach, lasted 16 games with the team before getting fired.

Q: Lastly, did the Lightning win the Stanley Cup thanks to Torts or in spite of him? From what you know about this year’s Rangers team, do you think Torts can earn his second ring? (Editor’s Note: What we meant by the “in spite of him” question, was how integral a role did he play in the team winning a Cup. Poorly worded on our end.)

A: How many professional sport teams won a championship in spite of their head coach? (Editor’s Note: The 1995 Dallas Cowboys!) This isn’t a video game, this isn’t fantasy hockey, this is professional sports – where coaches are involved at all levels of game plans, training, staffing, lineups, etc. They live and breathe the sport. To insinuate a team – any team – is winning in spite of their head coach is to simply admit to bias. Did the New York Giants win the Super Bowl in spite of their head coach? Did Boston win the Cup last year in spite of Claude Julien? Did the Yankees win World Series rings in the 1990′s in spite of Joe Torre?

If John Tortorella doesn’t take the Rangers deep in the playoffs, there will be reasons for it. But the reasons won’t be because he didn’t play Sean Avery. The reason won’t be because he had the team adhere to his system. The reason won’t be because the Rangers didn’t trade for Rick Nash. It will be because the Rangers got beat.

John Tortorella winning a second Stanley Cup is something I’d like to see, but the NHL’s second season isn’t based on how well a team is playing in the regular season. It’s based on how well they play when it’s absolutely do-or-die.

Capping off our Torts tribute, here are the Top Ten John Tortorella Moments (meltdowns) of All-Time!

Does Torts Coach #TheRightWay? Part I

No, really. This did happen. (That's a helluva playoff beard!)

As many of you know, The Garden Faithful is hot and cold in our relationship with Rangers head coach John Tortorella. While we fully acknowledge he has transformed a bunch of blue-collar guys and a world-class goaltender into the best team in the East, we also see fatal flaws in his coaching philosophy that worry us come playoff time. In other words, will the “system” he uses in the regular season work as effectively come late spring? We’re skeptical.

Accordingly, we decided to reach out to a Tampa Bay Lightning blogger and pick his brain about Torts and His Ways, in an effort find out how our head coach guided the 2003-04 Lightning to a Stanley Cup, in addition to finding out what caused his demise on the Gulf Coast of Florida. Our line of questioning would lead you to believe we view Torts as a crappy floor hockey coach who won a contest to become the Rangers head coach and is leading them to the first winless season in NHL history (well, Jason Ward may feel that way.) Instead, our inquiries to John Fontana, the managing editor of the Lightning blog “Raw Charge,” were intended to either help prove or disprove our negative thoughts on Torts’ coaching style.

What we received from Fontana was a thoughtful, educated and passionate defense of Tortorella. In the same way Rangers fans idolize Mike Keenan, Fontana shared his unconditional affection for Tortorella. That’s what happens when a coach wins you a championship. He elevates from a jerk-off to an immortal prophet. Just as we may find Fontana’s responses a bit overzealous, consider what people from Philadelphia, Chicago, St. Louis, Vancouver, (deep breath), Boston, Florida, and Calgary think when they hear Rangers fans extol the virtues of Iron Mike. But that’s what a Stanley Cup does. Every person associated with that championship becomes emblazoned in your memory as a saint.

So do we think Fontana is a Torts homer or an erudite hockey fan that has seen Torts’ coaching style breed multiple superstars and a Stanley Cup? For me its more the latter than the former, but keep an open mind who’s defending him. Regardless of what you take from the interview, it is reassuring to hear how Torts guided a team to the Promised Land.

Can lightning strike twice? We’ll find out. (Sorry. I had to. It was too easy.)

Fontana did such a wonderful job answering our questions, we’ve decided to publish this in two parts: Part One today, Part Two tomorrow before Torts returns to Tampa Bay.

(Everything in italics is Fontana, everything in regular print is The Faithful.)

For what it’s worth, to give context before we begin: John Tortorella is going to be a Jack Adams finalist. If there is a segment of Ranger fans unhappy with this, then the problem isn’t necessarily the head coach.

Q: Many Rangers fans are upset with Torts’ constant preaching of “going through the process” and not playing outside “the system.” He refuses to acknowledge the Rangers are a Cup contender. He say’s “we’re not quite there yet,” making it sound like we’re an 8-seed fighting for our playoff lives, rather than a team running away with the Eastern Conference. Did Torts say the same kind of things during the Lightning’s Cup-winning ’04 season?

A: It’s called keeping the team grounded. Yeah, Tortorella talked like that in 2003-04, and the team bought into it. Veterans like Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier speak in grounded terms in the media to this day when the team has success, and Steven Stamkos and other young players are following their lead. And there’s nothing wrong with it.

Last season, the Rangers only made the playoffs with thanks to Tampa Bay beating the Carolina Hurricanes on the last day of the season. You and fellow Ranger fans remember that, right? And the disappointing first-round bouncing from the playoffs by the Washington Capitals? Would it be better if Tortorella let success go to his and the players heads and started a Laissez-faire management style where anything goes? No. Why? Because bad habits start to form when players get cocky and undisciplined; mistakes get made, and success can quickly turn into failure.

(Editor’s Note: As the blog’s lone Jets fan, I just started hysterically crying.)

Q: The ’04 Lightning were far more offensively talented than this Rangers club. They had the Hart Trophy winner in St. Louis, Lecavalier, Stillman, Richards, Modin, and Boyle on defense. Khabibulin was good in net during the regular season, but certainly not great. Did Torts preach conservative play or did he let the offense flow? In other words, what was his coaching philosophy? Did he coach to the team’s strengths or was he stubborn and made them play his way?

A: He made the team play his way, and his philosophy was “Safe is Death”. Players were supposed to be opportunists, but had to be responsible at both ends no matter what.

You can talk about the offensive prowess of St. Louis and Modin, but they were also effective penalty killers. Lecavalier and Stillman were a strong combo but Vinny was expected to win faceoffs. The Lightning were great on the forecheck, and that enabled the offense to flow.

Playing within a effective system – and Torts system has proven he has one– with the right personnel and the proper execution, works out in the end.

Q: Rangers fans are often infuriated by Torts inability to consistently run four lines. He’s constantly switching and flip-flopping lines, even if certain combinations are clicking. Did he do the same thing in Tampa Bay? Did he shorten the bench in the playoffs? Or did he continue relying on his third and fourth-line guys?

A: He continued relying on his guys. Rolling four lines. While the line combos were consistent or had small variations, you have to remember 2004 was different (for the league) than it is now. More coaches are now constantly shuffling lines. Rick Tocchet, when he coached in Tampa (who infuriated fans), constantly did that but his management was ineffective. Guy Boucher does that now to mixed results. Generally the same players will likely end up together, but line combos remaining static isn’t necessarily going to happen.

Q: Did Torts play favorites in Tampa Bay. For instance, were certain players on a short leash if they made mistakes in games, and would they ride pine as a result of their mistakes? Once you were in Torts’ doghouse, were you able to get out?

A: This happens with any coach in any league in any sport. If you can’t play in a system that the head coach – the guy in charge — employs, or if you go loose-cannon and make ill-timed, ill-advised mistakes on a regular basis, you are going to go to the doghouse.

It’s not a John Tortorella thing, it’s a head coaching thing. Currently, Tampa Bay head coach Guy Boucher has put guys into a doghouse from time to time during the season –Teddy Purcell, rookie Brett Connolly. Were they able to work their way out of the doghouse? Yup, by playing better within the system.

That goes for Tortorella as well. Andre Roy was the player in Tampa under Torts that was repeatedly in the doghouse, and for the reasons that I alluded to above: Ill-timed penalties, carelessness, not playing within the system. Did he find his way out of the doghouse? At times. But you have to earn that right – that goes for all coaches in any sport, though.

(Read Part II of “Does Torts Coach #TheRightWay on Friday!)

Brandon Dubinsky, It’s Time To Step Up.

Brandon Dubinsky was traded to Hell today…

The trade deadline has passed and Brandon Dubinsky remains a New York Ranger. Like an alleged criminal who has been acquitted of multiple murder charges, Dubinsky has a new lease on life. He has 22 games and the playoffs to show us that he deserves the contract he was given last summer. He can show us that the first 60 games of this season were just a fluke. I believe that he can get back to being the player he used to be and fulfill his potential. For many of you who wanted him gone and had your Rick Nash jerseys pre-ordered (ME!), you may have forgotten what Brandon Dubinsky has done here over the years and what he is capable of bringing to the table. The guy has had a difficult year and it’s become easy to forget how valuable he was to this team prior to this season. This was supposed to be an obituary type article (Journalism 101…wrote this two weeks ago), but instead it’s an inspirational tribute.

Here are the Top 10 Brandon Dubinsky Moments courtesy of The Garden Faithful.

10. In Game 5 of the playoffs vs. the Devils in 2008, it was Dubinsky’s empty-netter that sealed it for the Rangers as they won the series in a tidy five games.

9. While the rest of the hockey world praised Sidney Crosby, it was Brandon Dubinsky who reminded everyone who he truly is.

8. Do you remember Sean Avery’s return to the Garden two years ago with Dallas? We all knew Avery would want to stir things up early. At the end of his first shift he stood in Lundqvist’s crease and tried to get in his head. It was Dubinsky who came in and told him The King would not be subjected to his antics.

7. When Artem Anisimov shot his infamous rifle at the Tampa Bay net, it was Dubinsky who stepped in when the Lightning attacked him. And when the refs were trying to speak to Anisimov in the penalty box (unsuccessfully, of course), it was Dubinsky who spoke up for his much less fluent teammate. (Fast-forward 40 seconds in.)

6. After a Sidney Crosby dive, it was Henrik Lundqvist who reminded Crosby to stop acting like a woman and to stay on his feet. But it was Dubinsky who reminded Crosby that no matter how much special treatment he gets in this league, he can’t touch The King.

5. Mike Richards might go to sleep next to Jeff Carter every night, but it is Dubinsky who he has still has nightmares about.

4. The Rangers were nearing another defeat at the hands of the Penguins, when it was Dubinsky who unleashed this beautiful toe drag and pass that set up Ryan Callahan for the game-winning goal.

3. When Alex Ovechkin tried to wake up his team at the Garden and hit Dan Girardi, it was Dubinsky who answered the bell as the two dropped the gloves at center ice for a memorable bout.

2. When the Rangers needed to win essentially every game at the close of last season to make the playoffs, it was Dubinsky whose game-tying goal against the Bruins catapulted the Rangers to a tremendous and unforgettable win.

1. In Game 3 of the playoffs vs. Washington last season, in a back-and-forth game, it was Dubinsky’s nifty goal that put the Rangers in front for good and put the Garden into an absolute frenzy. It remains the biggest goal of his NHL career.

If the Rangers are going to take that next step as they enter the last quarter of the season and the playoffs, it is Brandon Dubinsky who must step up and help lead this team. As you can see, he’s done it in the past and there’s no reason to think he can’t do it in the future.

Prove us right, Dubie.