The End.

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Almost.

I have a morbid tradition of calling my dad after traumatic season-ending losses.

The conversation usually starts with me asking, “It’s definitely worth it, right? Winning a championship makes all the losing worth it?” Prior to the early morning hours of June 14, 2014, he had always answered with a resounding, “Yes. I promise.” But this phone call was different. The Rangers had just lost Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals in double overtime, with the game and series ending 20 years to the day after the team’s only Stanley Cup victory of the past 78 years. The Rangers had been defeated in five games, but had lost three in overtime or double overtime, all of which they led in the 2nd period or later. For a five-game series where they were wildly outplayed, you could confidently mutter to yourself, “We should have won.”

So following the game I paused my trek back to Hoboken, sat down on a humidity-soaked bench outside the 53rd and Lex subway stop and called “Dad Cell.” I asked the question, he didn’t answer. All I could hear was the dialogue from The Sopranos episode playing in the background. After a deep exhale, he replied, “I really don’t know anymore.”

***

There is a lot of losing in love.

We love people, yet most of us go through multiple relationships before finding a life partner, and even then, odds say that marriage is a 50-50 bet to succeed or fail. We love animals, yet most domesticated pets do not live beyond 15 years. We love sports, yet our favorite team has less than a four percent chance of winning a championship in a given season. We constantly invest ourselves in ill-fated ventures because the journey matters more than the destination, because hope is a more powerful emotion than despair.

For Rangers fans of a certain age, however, that was a flawed line of thinking. From 1998 to 2004 the Rangers were terrible. Like really, really awful. They failed to make the playoffs for seven straight seasons, playing a slow, unskilled, emotionless brand of hockey. And for a fan born in 1989, whose first real memories of the team begin a season after its franchise-defining championship, there was no hope. As the NHL stumbled in to the 2004-05 lockout, the Rangers were a broken franchise without a plan, and even worse, they had failed to parlay their never-ending string of top draft choices into building blocks for the future.

When the league resumed play in the fall of 2005 though, the Rangers returned with two reasons for optimism. Future Hall of Famer Jaromir Jagr was in shape and intent on rejuvenating his career, and there was a 23-year-old goalie from Sweden, drafted five years earlier in the 7th round, who was not only ridiculously handsome, but transformed the way the team played when he was in net. The Rangers would defy the odds in 2006, racking up 100 points after being universally labeled the league’s worst team prior to the season. They were swept in the first round of the playoffs by the rival Devils, but received a standing ovation from The Garden crowd in the final minute of Game Four. For the first time in nearly a decade, the Rangers had hope, and more importantly, they had a bona fide homegrown star: Henrik Lundqvist.

For the next five seasons Lundqvist blossomed into one of the league’s best goalies, carrying mediocre Rangers teams into the playoffs and even winning two first-round series. By the time the Rangers had put a team around him that was ready to win, Lundqvist was entering the peak of his prime, and the 2011-12 season marked the first time in 15 years the Rangers were going to contend for a Stanley Cup. They did not disappoint. The Rangers claimed the best record in the Eastern Conference, Lundqvist won the Vezina for the league’s best goalie, and the team won two memorable seven-game series en route to the conference finals against an underdog Devils team.

And here is where the legacy of this Rangers team begins to fray.

After taking a 2-1 series lead against the Devils, the Rangers lost the next three games, including an overtime, season-ending loss in Game Six. It was a brutal series to lose, but Rangers fans felt the window to win a Stanley Cup had just opened; there would be more chances to come. But then the beginning of the 2012-13 season was postponed due to another lockout, and the team never found its groove, losing in the second round to the Bruins. The 2013-14 season was more of the same, with the Rangers narrowly qualifying for the postseason. They defeated the Flyers in seven games in the first round, but fell behind the Penguins 3 games to 1 in the following series, with the nadir coming in an embarrassing Game 4 loss at The Garden, with the team registering a meager 15 shots on goal. Any rational Rangers fan leaving the arena that night did not expect to return that season.

And then, the day before Game 5, tragedy struck one of the team’s best players: Marty St. Louis.

This from then team beat writer Katie Strang:

“After the team charter landed in Pittsburgh on Thursday afternoon, the 38-year-old veteran found out his mother, France St. Louis, had unexpectedly died at 63 of a heart attack. The Rangers provided St. Louis with the team plane to fetch his family in New York, then procured a private plane to take them all to Montreal, where he joined his father and was able to see his mother one last time before she was taken away. He was told by the team to put family first, take whatever time he needed. But when he spoke with his father Friday morning, the decision was clear.”

The decision was that St. Louis would fly back to Pittsburgh and play in Game 5. Facing elimination, the players rallied around their heartbroken teammate and played the team’s best game of the season, defeating the Penguins 5-1. Following the game, St. Louis said of his mother, “She was a great lady, the best human being I’ve ever known in my life. I owed it to her to do it.”

Two days later, on Mother’s Day, St. Louis scored the first goal of the game thanks to a lucky, if not fateful bounce. The Rangers would not trail again in the series, winning Games 6 and 7, with St. Louis assisting on the series-winning goal.

The Rangers would face St. Louis’ hometown team the Canadiens in the conference finals, and thanks to the future Hall of Famer’s overtime goal in Game 4, the Rangers won the series, capping the magical run with a Game 6 win at The Garden.

Once again though, the Rangers fell short, losing to the Kings in that traumatic series. The following year provided similar emotional battles despite a record-setting regular season, with Lundqvist suffering a serious neck injury in January, and fan favorite Mats Zuccarello having his skull fractured by a teammate’s shot in the first round of the playoffs. Zuccarello, arguably the team’s best playmaker, would not return in the postseason, and the Rangers would lose to the Lightning in a deeply frustrating conference finals, where they were shutout in Games 5 and 7 at home, the latter marking the first time in franchise history the Rangers had lost a Game 7 at The Garden.

It has a been a slow and steady descent to where we find the Rangers today. Following the 2015 season the team began stripping away veteran leaders who had seen their performances decline or had failed to live up to high-priced contracts. In reality, the team should have started their rebuild following a first-round loss to the Penguins in 2016, but like with any meaningful long-term relationship, you do everything you can to keep it alive, even if deep down you know a new beginning is what’s needed. There was even a brief glimmer of hope last spring, a surprise playoff series win against the Canadiens, but that was only a precursor to another maddening playoff elimination marked by an inability to close out games when it mattered most.

A story’s end defines its middle, and this era of Rangers hockey ends without a Stanley Cup. Because of that, the past 13 years will always have a bittersweet taste, but so do many things in life. I grew up with this team, from a late bloomer of a 15-year-old teenager to a 28-year-old adult who has suffered heartbreak and success, I see a reflection of real life in what this team gave us. And they gave us so much. The memories I made watching this era of Rangers hockey with family and friends will live in my heart forever. So yes, it may be nearly four years later, but I can now answer my own question: This, all of this, will always be worth it.

***

AND NOW IF YOU WANNA GEEK OUT WITH ME HERE ARE MY 13 FAVORITE MOMENTS OF THE PAST 13 YEARS HAYYYYY!

(NOTE: I didn’t want to just pick playoff overtime winners, so apologies to Michael Rozsival (2007), Marian Gaborik (2012), Chris Kreider (2013), Derick Brassard (2014), Kevin Hayes (2015), Carl Hagelin (2015), Ryan McDonagh (2015), and Mika Zibanejad (2017).

13. November 26, 2005 – Rangers 3, Capitals 2 (SO)

Marek Malik scored the greatest shootout goal in league history to win it for the Rangers in the 15th round. The team’s “stick salute” to the crowd after the game was a first in league history, a tradition several clubs employ today. My first truly positive Rangers experience at The Garden.

12. April 18, 2007, Rangers 4, Thrashers 2

I slowly withered away in the stands as mono ravaged my will to live, but the joy of Jagr’s empty-netter to clinch the team’s first series win since 1997 was enough to make me scream in joy. The first of many magical series-clinchers at MSG.

11. April 13, 2008, Sean Avery ruins Martin Broduer’s life

Fine, that description is a bit hyperbolic, but only a little. In the 2nd period of a 1-1 playoff game, Avery decided to “screen” Brodeur by obscuring his vision with his hands and stick. In the nearly 100 year history of the league, it was a first. Avery capped the power play by scoring a goal on Brodeur. Following the game the NHL created a rule banning the play. The Avery Rule was born, and his legend in Rangers history was cemented.

10. October 26, 2013, Rangers 3, Red Wings 2 (OT)

This is a personal favorite. I attended this game in Detroit with my dad and brother. The Rangers opened the 2013-14 season with a nine-game road trip that was an unmitigated disaster. They entered the ninth game having lost six of eight, including a three-game stretch where they were outscored 20-5, forcing backup goalie Marty Biron into retirement because he was so badly humiliated by the Sharks and Blues. Needless to say, they needed a win in Detroit, and they got it when Benoit Pouliot’s diving one-handed pass sprung Derick Brassard for the game-winning goal. Sam Rosen delivered on the call.

9. January, 2, 2012, Henrik stops Briere penalty shot to win Winter Classic

The Rangers led the Flyers 3-2 with 20 seconds remaining in the 2012 Winter Classic when the refs decided to award Philadelphia a penalty shot for no apparent reason other than to add drama to the occasion. Henrik stopped Danny Briere’s penalty shot and the Rangers fans in Philadelphia let out a tremendous roar over the groans of Flyers fans. A trademark moment for one of the best goalies of all-time.

8. April 26, 2012, Rangers 2, Senators 1

After trailing the series 3 games to 2, the Rangers won Game 6 in Ottawa and returned to MSG for their first home Game 7 since the ’94 Stanley Cup Finals. They frantically held on to a one-goal lead for the final 28 minutes, with The Garden reaching a noise level in the final minute that I had never heard before.

7. December 8, 2011, Artem Anisimov shoots and scores and shoots

This one doesn’t crack the list without the help of modern sports television.

The soft-spoken, overly polite Anisimov lost his damn mind and used his stick as a gun in celebrating a goal. The Lightning somewhat understandably took offense and went after him. Anisimov set an unofficial NHL record by earning 14 penalty minutes celebrating a goal.

It wasn’t until days later we saw this piece of TV magic, the highlights being the devilish smiles Anisimov and Avery exchange in the locker room, followed by Artie’s adorable “sorry by me ” apology and fist-pound from Brian Boyle.

6. May 11, 2014, St. Louis’ Mother’s Day Goal

See above. No dry eyes.

5. May 13, 2014, Rangers 2, Penguins 1

After trailing three games to one, the Rangers forced a Game 7 back in Pittsburgh, and defeated the Penguins 2-1 on the back of arguably the greatest performance of Lundqvist’s career. He made 35 saves, with the highlight coming late in the third period. I won’t attempt to describe the pure chaos of that sequence. Hop to the 9:00 mark of the first link, and then the 6:56 mark of the second link for Bob Cole’s call and some incredible replays.

4. May 7, 2012, Rangers 3, Capitals 2 (OT)

With their second-round series tied at 2, the Rangers trailed Game 5 2-1 with 22 seconds remaining. It was then Joel Ward was whistled for a double-minor for high-sticking, and all hell broke loose. Brad Richards with 7 seconds left in regulation to tie it, Marc Staal in overtime to win it. And I got to sit next to my mom on her birthday as we watched together at MSG.

3. May 25, 2014, Rangers 3, Canadiens 2 (OT)

The Rangers led the conference finals 2 games to 1, but after losing Game 3 at home, Game 4 felt like a pseudo-elimination game. Tied at 2 in overtime, Carl Hagelin made a spinning tape-to-tape pass to St. Louis who buried it top-shelf to give the Rangers control of the series. (My brother and I were sitting on a straight line with St. Louis when he received the pass, we both saw the opening above Tokarski’s shoulder; thankfully Marty did too.)

2. May 13, 2015, Rangers 2, Capitals 1 (OT)

This game will always be bittersweet for me. Not only was I unable to attend, I had the winning goal by spoiled for me by someone who knew I was watching on a delay. My personal devastation aside, Derek Stepan’s Game 7 overtime winner was the incredible capper to a 3-1 series rebound that included a miracle comeback in Game 5, and one of the most thrilling playoff games in Rangers history in Game 6. Shit, we even wrote a blog post about it! (See previous post.)

1. May 29, 2014, Rangers 1, Canadiens 0

Lundqvist needed only 18 saves to send the Rangers to their first Cup finals since 1994, but his save late in the 2nd period of a tied game will likely go down as the most memorable of his career. With the puck floating towards a gaping net, Lundqvist had the quick-thinking to drop his stick, allowing his blocker to swing upward and swat the puck away. Dominic Moore scored minutes later to give the Rangers a lead they would not relinquish.

Following the game all five members of The Garden Faithful and some of our parents and siblings met at a bar outside The Garden to celebrate. It was the best night I’ve ever had as a Rangers fan.

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I’m Feeling This

I am not sleeping tonight.

As I begin flushing out this excretion of emotion, the clock is ticking towards 4:07 a.m. It’s still too early for the birds to start chirping, but it’s not nearly late enough to stop watching Derek Stepan’s game-winning, series-winning overtime goal. How many viewings is enough? It’s hard to say.

My Rangers fandom unofficially begins in the spring of 1995—the first playoff game I remember watching featured Alex Kovalev feigning death after a “slash” from the Quebec Nordiques’ Craig Wolanin, nullifying a Quebec goal and ultimately helping the Rangers win the game and series—and continues through today. There have been many great, if not ultimately dream-fulfilling moments during this time period. Adam Graves series-winning overtime goal vs the No. 1 seed Devils in 1997 is up there, the Rangers’ miracle Game 5 comeback vs the Capitals in 2012 is also in the discussion, as is Marty St. Louis’ Game 4 overtime-winner vs the Canadiens last season. They all hold a special place in my memory, but they also all pale in comparison to last night’s dramatics.

I can type the previous sentence with fierce conviction not because it was the team’s most important win of the past 21 years, but because of all that preceded it. This year’s postseason has started unlike any other in team history. The Rangers have played 12 playoff games and all 12 playoff games have been decided by one goal. There has been a devastating last-second defeat, a foursome of overtime winners, and most recently, a pair of matches in Washington where the Rangers were the better team yet scored one goal and lost two games. The No. 1 seed in the NHL, the team that was supposed to end 21 years of underachieving and close calls, was about to lose in five games in the 2nd round to an inferior opponent.

Game 5 was played last Friday night at Madison Square Garden. The Rangers were 101 seconds away from elimination when Chris Kreider finally solved the Capitals’ Rubik’s Cube of a goalie, Braden Holtby, with a shot that lacked any finesse or real intelligence, a simple one-timer that proved to be the impetus behind another 2nd-round, down-3-games-to-1, impossible-to-imagine-a-week-ago comeback. Instead of simply summarizing what happened after that Kreider goal, let’s look at the experience without a magnifying glass.

Sports are designed to break your heart. Each of the four major sports leagues in North America has at least 30 teams, all of whom put unimaginable financial resources towards winning a single trophy. The Rangers, despite their vast wealth and residence in the world’s greatest city, have won one Stanley Cup in the past 75 years. If it were not for their franchise-defining Stanley Cup win in 1994, the Rangers would hang out in the same dorm room as the Chicago Cubs, Toronto Maple Leafs, and every team from Buffalo and Cleveland. So when this current Rangers team racked up franchise-records of 53 regular season wins and 113 points, there was only one expectation for how the playoffs would end: Stanley Cup champions. With that established, to be so close to a season’s death, to have Game No. 100 of the 2014-15 season (preseason included) come down to a Score The Next Goal And You Live or Allow The Next Goal And You Die scenario, it cements Stepan’s wrist shot past the outstretched arms of Holtby as the finishing touch to the Rangers’ greatest win since June 14, 1994.

If you’re not a Rangers fan you may be thinking to yourself, “Bruh, they still need to win eight more games against teams that are much better than the team they just barely beat.” Your thought would be fair and factual, but it would not take into account the outpouring of emotion after Stepan’s winner last night. If you don’t believe me, watch the goal again, but look at the reaction of the crowd, not the players, after the puck goes in. It reminds me of a moment from last week right after Lionel Messi scored his 2nd goal against Bayern Munich, one that is analogous in its tournament-fueled importance to the goal Stepan scored last night. The camera moves to a pudgy, balding man in an Argentina national team shirt sitting in the last row of the 99,354-seat Camp Nou. He is screaming towards the Barcelona sky in pure jubilation and disbelief, looking as if his brain is going to melt and come pouring out his ears.

That’s how the Rangers fans look after Stepan’s goal. And as the normally understated yet dependably on-point Martin Tyler said after seeing the Barcelona fans in rapture, “Only football can make you feel like this.” Last night, only the Rangers could make you feel like this.

 

 

The Official Guide To Being A New York Rangers Bandwagon Fan, Part II

115279730The last time we put finger to keyboard in this space was more than two years ago. We did so in an effort to educate the Bandwagon Rangers Fan on how to properly support the team during the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals. Nearly 105 weeks later, we return to further enlighten your opportunistic, hockey-loving mind. The foe is different, the roster has changed, and the stakes are much higher. The Rangers now sit four wins closer to Lord Stanley’s Cup, which means, Bandwagon Rangers Fan, you must be a quick study. Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals begins Wednesday night at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. There is no time to procrastinate. Eternal happiness is upon us.

(If you think you recognize portions of the guide from the 2012 version, you are correct. Certain truths are forever. Martin Brodeur will always be the guy who slept with his sister-in-law, divorced his wife to marry the sister-in-law, thereby making his now ex-wife his new sister-in-law and his ex-sister-in-law his new wife. And he’s still fat.)

***

Allow me to begin by plagiarizing myself. I wrote this is in January 2012, and it remains the only time I will ever accurately articulate what playoff hockey means to a die-hard hockey fan. I hope it helps you understand:

“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.”

The NHL postseason is exhausting. It carries on for more than two months as it eats away at your personal life and crushes your professional ambition. It becomes the focal point of your existence, leaving no room for things like, you know, relaxation and happiness. So why do we do it? Why do we allow ourselves to endure it, let alone seek it out every spring? It’s very simple: The Stanley Cup.

It is the greatest trophy in sports. It carries the weight of 122 years of hockey history, and bares the names of some of the best athletes to ever grace North American soil. It is the only trophy whose name lends itself to a league’s postseason, and it is the only trophy from which you can drink champagne. That cannot be undervalued.

It is a truly beautiful, immaculate piece of silverware, and if you’re lucky Bandwagon Rangers Fan, you may see the Blueshirts lift it in a fortnight.

Now, let’s review.

New York’s hockey team is the Rangers. They are unique to New York. When people jump on the Rangers’ bandwagon they hop on it from a point of indifference, not from another team’s broken down procession. 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 also have the tortured history of the Mets and Jets (one championship in the past 73 years). If you jump on the Rangers’ bandwagon during the Finals, you aren’t doing so with the expectation of winning a title; this is not a winning organization. Remember: You are a prisoner, not a front-runner.

So whether tomorrow 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: The 2014 Edition!

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

The Garden Faithful: (Teeth grit)

Actually, before I answer that, let’s get the most important note out of the way: When Rangers fans chant goalie HENRIK Lundqvist’s name after a great save (this happens often), they’re chanting “HEN-RIK!” not “HEN-RY!” Take the extra gasp of air and get the “K” out. For me, that’s the easiest way to sniff out a fraud at The Garden. And someone I want to mercilessly punch in the face.

Back to your moronic question, there are three, 20-minute PERIODS in a hockey game. There are 17-minute intermissions following the first and second 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), it will take a little more than 2.5 hours to complete.

Bandwagon Rangers Fan: Jeez, all right. What makes the Rangers a good team? Who is their best player?

The Garden Faithful: That is the easiest question you’ll ask. When the Rangers win, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Sure, there are world-class talents like defenseman Ryan McDonagh, but ultimately they are a hard-working, grind-it-out team who score timely goals and defend well. With all that said, they are nothing without their goalie, Henrik Lundqvist. He is the foundation, the impetus, the locomotive, the heartbeat, the living, breathing reason the Rangers are in the Finals. He is the best goalie in the National Hockey League, and if he wins this Stanley Cup, King Henrik, as he is called, will likely go down as the greatest Ranger in the history of the franchise (Brian Leetch is also in that conversation). He is an once-in-a-lifetime talent, the type of player you look at another team and think: “Can you imagine if we had a guy like him?” And if that’s not enough, he is the most beautiful man on the face of the earth. I don’t know a heterosexual or homosexual male or female who would dispute that statement. He is truly perfect. He has won two-thirds of the goaltending “triple crown;” a gold medal in the 2006 Winter Olympics, the Vezina Trophy in 2012 (the award for best goalie in the NHL), and is now four wins away from a Stanley Cup.

True Story (according to The Daily Mail in England): Lundqvist once dated an actual Swedish princess; HE broke up with HER. He has since wed and become a father. His wife and baby daughter are beautiful, too. Naturally.

Bandwagon Rangers Fan: What’s our starting lineup?

The Garden Faithful: No NHL team has a set “starting lineup.” An average NHL shift lasts anywhere from 18-35 seconds, meaning whoever starts the game is off the ice quicker than you can choose an Instagram filter. The only player who is a fixture in a team’s starting lineup is the goalie. Everyone else is interchangeable. The players a coach selects to start the game often have an underhand message or some greater meaning; it’s similar to choosing “captains” for the coin toss in an NFL game. Take, for example, the Montreal Canadiens starting lineup in Game 6 vs the Rangers: Michel Therrien, the whining ***** of a head coach of the Canadiens, chose to start Brandon Prust, the player who broke the jaw of the Rangers’ Derek Stepan in Game 3, and was suspended two games for doing so. Prust is nothing more than a third or fourth line grinder, a guy who played an average of 12 minutes and 49 seconds a game this season. Therrien chose Prust to send a message to the Rangers; he failed. The Rangers won and Therrien remains the guy the Penguins fired during their Cup-winning season in 2009.

So yeah, the Rangers don’t have a starting lineup.

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

The Garden Faithful: The Rangers do not have a captain. It was Ryan Callahan, but he was traded on March 5th to the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for future Hall of Famer, Marty St. Louis. Why would either team make that trade, you ask? Callahan was set to become a free agent following the season and was asking for more money than the Rangers felt he was worth. St. Louis wanted out of Tampa Bay after the team’s general manager, Steve Yzerman—who also served as Team Canada’s GM for the Olympics—failed to include the 38-year-old forward in the country’s initial tournament roster. Oddly enough, St. Louis said he specifically wanted to be traded to the Rangers.

Since the trade the Rangers have sported three assistant captains: forward Brad Richards, and defensemen Dan Girardi and Marc Staal. When the team was awarded the Prince of Wales trophy for winning the Eastern Conference this past Thursday, the entire team gathered around the trophy for a picture rather than the traditional one player posing with NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly. Expect a similar situation to unfold if they win the Cup.

Rangers_Prince of WalesBandwagon Rangers Fan: Their head coach?

The Garden Faithful: Alain Vigneault. He is the polar opposite of the team’s previous head coach, John Tortorella. Vigneault is calm and collected, rarely raises his voice and shows very little emotion on the bench. Unlike Tortorella, who was fired after last season’s second-round playoff exit, AV does not shorten his bench during the playoffs, as he consistently plays four lines of forwards and three lines of defense. He does not nail a player to the bench for committing a bad penalty, and will never throw a player under the bus in the press. He is truly a player’s coach.

Bandwagon Rangers 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 Rangers 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’ 1994 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 2012. None of these theories have ever been confirmed, although Wikipedia supports the last one. Or at least it used to; he now died in 2009. The poor guy never got to see Ryan McDonagh in a Rangers uniform.

Now, we have “Dancing Larry.” Prior to the first 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. While I personally despise him and believe he is a Mush, Larry is something of a rallying figure, as he dances to the song, “Strike It Up” by Black Box following the final TV timeout of the third period. Larry has had a rough postseason, however. On his final move—a backwards jump if you will—Larry has failed to stick the landing (twice!) and has nearly fallen down the stairs. He also smells terribly. I waited next to him on line for the bathroom during Game 4 of the Penguins series. The man reeks. But nevertheless, people enjoy his work.

Mush.

Mush.

Bandwagon Rangers Fan: What was the turning point of the season? Or have we always been destined for this?

The Garden Faithful: The Rangers were certainly not destined for this. They were an above-average team during the regular season and have rode Lundqvist and timely scoring to the Finals. For me there hasn’t been a “turning point,” but there have been moments that have saved the season. Three stick out to me:

Saturday, October 26th: The Rangers opened the season with a nine-game road trip. Heading into the final game of the cross-country tour, they had won just two games (one in Los Angeles, coincidentally) and had been eviscerated in several matches. It got so bad that backup goalie Marty Biron was forced into retirement after allowing nine goals on 47 shots in his two appearances. (Seriously, he now works for MSG as an analyst. It was sad.)

The final game of the trip came in Detroit on a rainy Saturday night. It was as close as you can get to a must-win in October, as the team was scheduled to play their home opener at The Garden on Monday night. Tied 2-2 in the final seconds of overtime, in a sign of things to come, Benoit Pouliot made a wet dream of a diving one-handed pass to send Derick Brassard on a breakaway. Brass netted his first goal of the season and the Rangers were saved from a chorus of boos at the home opener. As you can see from the team’s celebration, it was more than just your average October win.

Saturday, January 4th: After losing 5-2 to the Penguins the previous night, in a game where the commitment and effort of several key players were brought into question by the fans and media, the team responded with a 7-goal, 50-shot win in Toronto on Hockey Night in Canada. They never looked back, winning 13 of their next 18 games, as they slowly but surely locked up a spot in the postseason.

Friday, May 9th, Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals: The Rangers trailed 3-1 in a best-of-seven series against the Pittsburgh Penguins following a Game 4 loss at The Garden on May 7th. In what many hockey observers called “the worst playoff game (a team has) ever played, ” the Rangers played without emotion, somehow registering only 15 shots in what appeared to be the final home game of the season.

The following afternoon, as the team flew to Pittsburgh for Game 5, St. Louis’s mother, France, suffered a heart attack and died at the age of 63. St. Louis was notified after the team plane landed in Pittsburgh. He immediately got back on the plane and flew to Montreal to be with his father and sister. The Rangers prepared to play Game 5 without him, but on that fateful Friday afternoon rumblings spread throughout the locker room that St. Louis was flying back to Pittsburgh. The rumors were true: St. Louis played an excellent Game 5 and the Rangers dominated the Penguins in a 5-1 victory. Buoyed by the emotional lift St. Louis’ situation provided the team, the Rangers won Game 6 on Mother’s day at MSG (with St. Louis scoring the game’s first goal) and Game 7 on the road two nights later. It may be morbid to say, but everyone associated with the team will tell you the Rangers would not be where they are without St. Louis’ mother passing. It galvanized the team in a way no speech or on-ice moment could.

To read more about the Game 5 win, here is Katie Strang’s game story from that night. It is the best gamer I have ever read.

Bandwagon Rangers Fan: Who are WE playing?

The Garden Faithful: The Los Angeles Kings.

Bandwagon Rangers Fan: Who is their most hated player?

The Garden Faithful: In my opinion the Kings do not have THAT guy (although by the end of Game One, I’m sure we’ll find someone). No one on the team has a history of cheap shots or gooning it up, so I would say Jeff Carter and Mike Richards. Both are former Flyers and will always be infected with the Philadelphia virus. The Rangers historically owned the players that many 20-something-year-old Flyers fans referred to as the “Coke Brothers of Philadelphia.” Richard’s affinity for The White Line is so well-known that players openly taunt him about it during games.

Bandwagon Rangers Fan: Have the Kings played anyone good in the playoffs? I bet they’re so overrated, right?

The Garden Faithful: Yes and most certainly no. The Kings have won three classic seven-game series. They came back from a 3-0 series deficit to beat the San Jose Sharks in Round One (it was only the fourth time in NHL history a 3-0 deficit had been overturned), beat the team with the best regular season record in the Western Conference, the Anaheim Ducks, in Round Two, and just knocked off the defending Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks in Round Three. The Kings won all three Game 7s on the road, a task no team in NHL history had previously completed. They are big and fast with arguably the best defenseman on the planet in Drew Doughty. Their goalie, Jonathan Quick, is one of the tops in the sport, but he did struggle against the Blackhawks and is prone to allowing the occasional howler.

Bandwagon Rangers Fan: Let me guess: The Rangers and Kings got to the Finals by spending the most money. Typical big-market teams outspending everyone else. I’m really so si…

The Garden Faithful: No, you dimwit.  There is a salary cap in the NHL, meaning the Rangers can’t simply buy a championship. 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’ 12 most important players this postseason and how they got them.

1. Henrik Lundqvist (Draft), 2. Ryan McDonagh (Trade), 3. Dan Girardi (Undrafted free agent), 4. Marc Staal (Draft), 5. A seven-way tie between forwards Rick Nash (Trade…more on him later), Chris Kreider (Draft), Derick Brassard (Trade), Marty St. Louis (Trade), Brad Richards (Free Agent), Mats Zuccarello (Undrafted free agent), and Carl Hagelin (Draft)

That’s only one free agent! Despite not having won a Cup in his 14 seasons as the team’s general manager, Glen Sather deserves a lot of credit for the way he put this team together.

Bandwagon Rangers Fan: How many Stanley Cups have the Rangers won? Have they come close any other seasons?

The Garden Faithful:  The Rangers have won four Stanley Cups, most recently in 1994; it is the team’s only championship in the past 73 (hopefully not going on 74) years. The organization’s other Cups came in 1928, 1933, and of course, 1940. It’s not a proud history. Here are the other seasons in which they have come close, but ultimately ripped your heart out.

1950: Forced out of MSG by the circus, the Rangers had to play Games 1 and 4-7 on the road in Detroit, and Games 2 and 3 “at home” in Toronto. In spite of their nomadic existence, the Rangers led the series 3-2 after five games. The Blueshirts held two-goal advantages in Games 6 and 7, only to let the leads slip away both nights. Game 7 was decided in double overtime, when American Pete Babando netted the first Cup-winning, sudden death goal in NHL history. In the excitement that followed, Red Wings captain Ted Lindsay decided to hoist the Cup above his head and take a lap with it around the rink. No player had ever previously celebrated this way, and no player has failed to celebrate this way since. History was made at the Rangers’ expense.

1972: Widely considered the best Rangers team to not win the Cup, the Blueshirts boasted the franchise’s best-ever points per game average, earning 109 points in 78 games (this was before shootouts, too!). The team was dealt an awful blow when leading points-scorer, Jean Ratelle, suffered a broken ankle with 16 games left in the regular season. Ratelle would return for the Cup Final, but was a shadow of his midseason self. The Bruins and an in-his-prime Bobby Orr won the series in six games.

1979: Similar to this year’s team, the Rangers had an above-average regular season and rode a hot goalie (John Davidson) to the Stanley Cup Finals, beating the rival Islanders in a classic six-game series along the way. The Blueshirts won Game 1 of the Finals at the Montreal Forum prompting widespread belief THIS was it! It wasn’t. They lost the next four games.

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

The Garden Faithful: This is an easy one: Rick Nash. “Slim” has led the Blueshirts in goals scored in each of his two regular seasons in New York, but has been conspicuously absent from the goal column during the postseason. He failed to score in the team’s first 14 playoff games this season, and scored just once in 12 playoff games last season. Yes, he scored three goals during the Canadiens series (and his defensive play has never been stronger), but you never get the sense he is “back.” Nash looks weak on the puck, his shot frequently off-target, and most disconcerting of all, he looks disinterested in the offensive zone. Nash has only five goals in 36 career playoff games (compared to 336 goals in 783 regular season games), and has never scored a postseason goal at The Garden. If the Rangers have any chance of winning this series, Nash must score on both sides of the continent.

Bandwagon Rangers 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.

FLOW.

FLOW.

Bandwagon Rangers 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.”

If Mats Zuccarello scores… “ZUUUUUUUUC!”

If Derek Stepan scores… “He’s been so much better since he had his jaw broken!”

If Rick Nash scores… “I told you he’d come around!”

If Rick Nash isn’t scoring…”Nash has been invisible! Where is he? Probably ordering more Mr. Chow!”

If they’re sitting on a one-goal game with 10 minutes left in the third period: “Where is the nearest toilet?”

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…

“I don’t like Henrik’s hair.”

“I can’t find the puck (as you’re staring at your phone).”

Ever… “We better score in the third quarter!”

When NBC shows that bald guy standing between the glass at rink level… “That Pierre McGuire seems like he’d be a really trustworthy babysitter. I would definitely trust him coaching my adolescent son.”

Also… “Why has no one hired Pierre? It seems like he’d make a great coach!”

If the Rangers power play is struggling… “I really wish we still had that Del Zotto guy.”

If it’s tied late in the game… “I hope this doesn’t go to a shootout.”

On other players…”The Canadiens: That’s a team that plays the game the right way. So much class and honor. They NEVER complain or dive.”

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.”

Bandwagon Rangers 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). It does have lyrics but you won’t have time to memorize them.

And during the playoffs, thanks to NHL.com’s spectacular locker room celebration videos, we’ve learned the Rangers love listening to Maxine Nightingale’s “Right Back Where We Started From.” The players undoubtedly discovered the song thanks to the greatest hockey—and arguably sports—movie of all-time, Slapshot. The London native definitely had hockey players in mind when she recorded it in 1975…

***

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, please do so with a good head on your shoulders. And follow us @GardenFaithful. We’re almost Twitter Verified!

Prediction: Tears. Uncontrollable tears.

You should love whatever Margot Robbie loves.

You should love whatever Margot Robbie loves.

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.