If you’re like me, a lifelong die-hard New York Rangers fan, then you have some scars.
Growing up in New Jersey amid three Devils Stanley Cup titles, there were times when being a fan of the Blueshirts was nothing to brag about.
At one point in time from 1997 through 2001, the Rangers went 23 straight regular season games without beating their crosstown rivals.
Postseason play eluded our beloved Rangers for seven straight seasons while the Devils have had playoff reservations in all but two of the 21 years that I’ve been around for. I’ve faked illnesses to miss school and evade the inevitable Devils fans ready to boast their most recent accomplishment. I vividly remember the demoralizing walk through the tunnel at Continental Airlines Arena to the parking lot following some devastating Rangers defeats.
As the seasons went by and the disappointment mounted, that image of Mark Messier holding the cup at Madison Square Garden became more and more distant. Long time Rangers broadcaster Sam Rosen called that memorable Game 7 in 1994…
“The waiting is over! The New York Rangers are the Stanley Cup Champions! And this one will last a lifetime!”
For the last 18 years, it seemed like it just might have to last a lifetime.
The list of failed high-profile signings in the past decade is a mile long. Pavel Bure, Chris Drury, Bobby Holik, Eric Lindros, Scott Gomez, Chris Drury.
Sure, some guys benefited from solid individual seasons, but collectively the Rangers became cellar dwellers in the Atlantic division for the better part of a decade. We saw future Hall of Famer Jaromir Jagr play electrically in 2006 when he set a franchise record with 54 goals, but the team got swept in the first round that spring by none other than the Devils.
This current roster of Rangers lacks the dynamic scoring ability that Jagr brought, but at times his style of play seemed almost selfish. There’s no denying Jagr’s extraordinary skillset but he would probably rather attend a Hurricanes/Blue Jackets preseason game than block a slap shot.
But along came the 2012 New York Rangers—a roster full of young, hard-nosed, blue collar hockey players who embody what it means to be a part of a team.
Under Coach John Tortorella, the philosophy drastically changed and the guys bought into it. We saw Marion Gaborik, a 40-goal scorer, sacrificing his body to block shots. Forwards like Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky played scrappy, physical hockey all year long and the team’s hard work and determination earned them their first division title in nearly two decades.
But after Saturday night’s frustrating 1-0 loss, Rangers fans are once again preparing for mourning. After one of the most promising regular seasons in quite some time, the Blueshirts are on the verge of a disappointing first-round exit.
It is hard not to appreciate the success the Rangers achieved throughout the year, although with the great expectations that we had for our first-seeded team, a loss on Monday night would be crushing.
But the series is not over. The Rangers, like their fans, need to keep faith and persevere.
The last time that New York found themselves in this situation, a man by the name of Mark Messier carried his team to a Game 6 victory with a hat trick. The following game, Stephane Matteau scored one of the biggest goals in Rangers history—a double-overtime wrap around which sent the Rangers to the 1994 Stanley Cup finals.
And we all know how that ended.