“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.