Nobody predicted the New York Rangers would win their NHL playoff series with the Washington Capitals but many called the Rangers a dark horse. Some said they were most likely to upset a higher ranked team for a win on the way to the Stanley Cup.
Now that the Rangers swept away the Capitals home ice advantage and lead the series 2-0, returning for two games at Madison Square Garden, a few have predicted a Rangers victory, even a sweep of the series.
Let me be the first to predict the Rangers will win the first round, beat the Boston Bruins in Round Two, and beat up on the Detroit Red Wings in the Stanley Cup finals.
Can the Rangers defeat the Red Wings as well as the Caps and the Bruins? Nobody thought New York could beat Washington.
Aside from hardcore Rangers fans, not many believed in the New Yorkers' turnaround after the NHL Trade Deadline, when they hired coach John Tortorella, traded for Nik Antropov and Derek Morris, Sean Avery rejoined the Rangers, and the team was re-energized.
The Rangers stretch run was good but the Penguins and Capitals were a lot beter. The difference was that the Rangers got stronger at the end of the regular season and are getting stronger as the playoffs progress.
New York got it together just in time to get into the playoffs and upset the Capitals, 4-3 and 1-0. New York surprised themselves, as well as the Caps, in the first game, but dominated Game Two.
Before sweeping the Caps in Washington, the Rangers swept the Philadelphia Flyers in their last home-and-home series, to end the regular season.
The Rangers beat the Flyers to clinch a playoff spot and then they beat them again to take away their home ice advantage in the playoffs against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
If the Rangers can sweep the Flyers and Caps, or beat Washington in five, six, or seven, the dark horse team will be the Cinderella of the playoffs when they go into the second round.
The Rangers split their last two games with the Boston Bruins, with each team winning at home. Sean Avery caused controversy at the end of their last game, giving Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas a tap on the helmet that was heard around the hockey world.
Since then, the Bruins have gone from controversy to controversy. Milan Lucic is now suspended for a brutal hit on Maxim Lapierre of the Montreal Canadiens.
In ther last game, Lucic took out the Rangers Nik Antropov with a dangerous knee-to-knee hit. Antropov was out for the rest of that game but returned to score against Philly and the Caps.
It looks like Lucic wants to replace Sean Avery as the most hated hockey player in the NHL. There's a difference, though. Avery is the player hockey fans love to hate, but there is no love involved in the Rangers relationship with Lucic.
The Boston Bruins might be harder to beat than the Detroit Red Wings as they are tougher and have enforcers, like Lucic. The Red Wings are the most skilled in the NHL but may be the softest.
Detroit has taken fewer penalties than any other team in the NHL this season. That would suit the Rangers, since their power play was the worst in the league this year.
The Rangers could release the hounds against the Red Wings and count on their penalty killers, since they are the best in the league.
After victories over the Caps and Brus, the Rangers would be the underdogs on paper but the fan favourites to three for three in Stanley Cup upsets.
The series against the Caps showed hockey games are not won on paper, they are won on the ice.
It's a huge longshot, but we love it when the dark horse wins. Besides, this is the era of hope and change. The Rangers have changed and many now hope they win.