“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.

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