Monday, May 07, 2007

And down go the Rangers...

2007 Eastern Conference Semi-final - Game 6
Sabres 5, Rangers 4
Buffalo wins series 4-2

For the first time I can remember, I was glad to see the New York Rangers in the playoffs and playing well this season.

Growing up in Western Canada, home to hockey's purported "small markets," it's funny how the Blueshirts from Broadway came to represent the NHL's big-town baddies — the money-grubbing ghouls who took the Cup from the Canucks in 1994 and helped create the half-season lockout the following season.

That's a pretty silly, simplified way of looking at the marquee team in the United States' biggest market, but I think for a lot of Canadian hockey fans, that's the way it is.

Or was, anyway.

Not that it mattered, not for a long time. New York has been downright awful and out of it for most of the past 13 years since winning that lone championship, missing the playoffs for eight consecutive seasons before returning to the dance last year for a feeble, four-game exit at the hands of the Devils.

But without the benefits of hockey's biggest payroll, the Rangers have become somewhat of an underdog — and a (gasp) fairly well-managed one at that. GM Glen Sather has assembled a pretty workmanlike cast, especially on the blue line, and a few key additions in Brendan Shanahan and Sean Avery have dramatically increased the sandpaper content on this team.

Add in the fact that Jaromir Jagr, 35, had what was his best season in six or seven years after flaming out last April, and, well, there was a lot to like in New York this postseason. Add in a burgeoning star in goal in Henrik Lundqvist and a passionate hometown crowd packing Madison Square Gardens and that's a team I can get behind.

Or at the very least watch on television a few times a week.

Yesterday's game against the Buffalo Sabres, the top team in hockey, was a good example of these reborn Rangers, as even down 4-2 midway through the game, New York continued to press and crawl back into the game.

It eventually took a beautiful/unrepeatable redirection from Jochen Hecht with 5:10 remaining in the game to really take the wind out of the Rangers' sails (although a late marker by Michael Nylander made it interesting about two minutes later).

In fact, this series was so close that it took a buzzer beater of a goal by Chris Drury in Game 5 to keep the Rangers from taking a 3-2 lead heading home, a situation where you'd have to favour the sixth-seeded underdogs. Despite the fact Buffalo ultimately won in six games, this was as close a match-up as we'll see in Round 2, something for which coach Tom Renney and his club deserve at least a pat on the back for.

There was, for the first time in a long, long time, a lot of heart on display at MSG this spring, so much so that some of hockey's top pundits are now murmuring as to the possibility of Sather adding that one final piece — a No. 1 blueliner — and pushing his club into the 'elite' of the Eastern Conference.

Shanahan's the only key cog set to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, but given the year he enjoyed with Jagr and friends, my guess is he's there to stay for another go at it in the Big Apple.

And why not? Suddenly, things are looking up in New York.

These baddies are good again.

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At 7:30 a.m., May 07, 2007, Blogger Luke said...

As a Canucks fan, I was pretty much bound by honour to dislike the Rangers throughout the mid-to-late-90s. But 13 years after that painful final, witnessing the NHL and its teams shoot themselves in the foot on so many decisions (hello Blackhawks and Bruins!), the resurgence of the Rangers is one of the few things that we can and should all cheer about. The NHL needs the Rangers to be competitive and it needs NY to care if there is any hope of regaining some of the lost hockey fans in the U.S.

At 7:31 a.m., May 07, 2007, Blogger Luke said...

Of course that doesn't mean I'm not still pleased to see the Sabres finish them off. :)

At 8:17 a.m., May 07, 2007, Blogger Doogie said...

I've developed a bit of a soft spot for these guys during these playoffs. After all, they went from out of it to sixth place to damned near unseating the Sabres (eight seconds!), and you've got to respect that. They've got a lot going for them next season, I think -- the Atlantic will be very interesting.

At 12:17 p.m., May 07, 2007, Blogger J. Michael Neal said...

I do not like these New York teams.
Forever losing in my dreams.
I do not like them, Yanks or Mets.
I do not like them, Giants or Jets.
I do not like them on the Isle,
Or the Devils, with boring style.
I do not like them, Nets or Knicks.
I want to see them take their licks.
My heart does burn at Messier
Holding the cup, upon Broadway.
The New York Rangers are not exempt
From my overall contempt.

At 1:41 p.m., May 07, 2007, Blogger ninja said...

a good buddy of mine is already psyched for next year's squad whose make-up looks promising even before any UFA activity.

Hank / Backup

Malik / Rosivol
Mara / Staal
Tyutin / Girardi

Straka / Nylander / Jagr
Prucha / SECOND LINE CENTER / Callahan
Avery / Cullen / Dawes
Ortmeyer(?) / Betts / Hollweg-Orr

Hossa walks and it's possible that Orty goes elsewhere as well

hopefully he and I will have a leafs/rangers blog up and running sometime this summer.

At 2:23 p.m., May 07, 2007, Blogger Matt said...

You think Hossa walks???

I find it hard to believe the Rangers let him walk...


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