Friday, May 30, 2014

One More Hill To Climb

Hockey in New York isn't exactly a hot-button topic, although the fan bases of the three local teams are probably about as frenetic as you can get. Even around here, where I write about Hockey once every 1,000 blog posts or so, there isn't much to say. I've been a Rangers fan by default; I grew up walking distance from Madison Square Garden and although I never went to a game, I like to see them do well and I can get behind them enough if they make a deep Playoff run.

But they hadn't made many deep playoff runs in the past years. After their miracle Stanley Cup Championship back in 1994, where names like Mark Messier, Brian Leetch and Mike Richter lionized themselves into heroes of the highest order in New York, the Rangers have been within shouting distance of the finals but twice, once in 1997, and again two years ago, both times ending in disappointment.

But the law of averages says these things have to turn at some point, sort of like how it was one of those pinch yourself moments for me when the 49ers went to the Super Bowl in 2012 after not having been in one for a generation, and now it's a pinch yourself moment for the Rangers, because after 20 years, they're finally going back to the Stanley Cup Finals, having beaten the Montreal Canadiens 1-0 on Thursday night to win their series in 6 games.

This series was truly a matchup of the NHL's old guard, a pair of Original Six teams squaring off for the right to go to the Finals. The Canadiens, Les Habitants, as they are known in their wonderful city of Montreal, are, perhaps, the flagship franchise of the NHL, having won 24 Stanley Cup Championships, but none in the last 21 years. The Rangers, however, controlled this series from the outset, winning the first two games at Le Centré Bell. The Canadiens returned the favor with an overtime win in Game 3, as the series moved to New York, but a second overtime miracle eluded them in the 4th game, as the Rangers moved within 1 win of their goal thanks to a Martin St. Louis goal. Back in Montreal, the Canadiens won a Game 5 shootout 7-4. But last night, the Rangers, behind Henrik Lundqvist, stopped the Canadiens cold. Given the slimmest of margins to work with, the Rangers defense suffocated Montreal all night until the clock ran out on the game and their season.

For the Rangers, it was the culmination of a long, troublesome road back to the Finals, after years of frustrating losses and teams that just couldn't get out of their own way. It's not the 54-year crucible that preceded the 1994 Finals, but 20 years is still 20 years. Hell, it's been close to 30 years since the Mets won a World Series Championship. Can you imagine, after the way things have broken out for the Mets, what it's going to be like when THEY finally get it together?

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