Head coach Alain Vigneault was asked an interesting question during the postgame conference of the New York Rangers' Eastern Conference Championship clinching performance against the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday, and the question really sums up how improbable this team's run has been.
Simply put, it is hard to blame Vigneault when you consider the Rangers started the season 3-7-0, and the team looked dazed and confused. Back in October, Tomas Hertl was busy sending Marty Biron into retirement, and the Anaheim Ducks were having fun lighting up the Blueshirts' defense.
Back in the present the Rangers are preparing to play in their first Stanley Cup Final since 1994, and many are wondering how they got here.
The Rangers were not a heavy favorite to emerge from the East. There were multiple times this season that the Blueshirts were supposed to fail, but instead they spit in the face of past failings. Rick Nash, the team's top goal scorer, has three goals in 20 games, but the Blueshirts are still going to play for the Stanley Cup.
When things like this happen, you start to wonder if there are larger things at work. Teams are not supposed to be the best team in their conference when their top goal scorer is quiet, but that clearly hasn't stopped the Rangers this season.
When you throw in the tragic stories of Dominic Moore and Marty St. Louis, the Rangers truly have a story that can help them rally support from other fans around the league. For those who don't know, Moore returned to the NHL this season after taking last year off.
Moore's wife Katie tragically died at age 32 because of a rare form of cancer. When the gritty defensive center wanted to make his NHL comeback, he returned to the team that drafted him back in the early 2000s.
Moore has been nothing short of spectacular during the playoffs, and he had an amazing Eastern Conference Final, including the series-clinching goal.
St. Louis, on the other hand, has a story that everyone should know by now because the various broadcasts and media teams have constantly brought it up. France St. Louis, Marty's mother, passed away unexpectedly before an elimination Game 5 during the conference semifinals.
It was unknown whether St. Louis would play or if he would miss the game. St. Louis made a brief stop in Montreal to be with his family, and he returned to play Game 5.
To even further the goosebumps of this story, St. Louis scored the first goal of a Game 6 played on Mother's Day. St. Louis has been on a tear since that point, and he currently has 13 points in 20 games to lead the team in scoring.
The Rangers await the winner of the Chicago Blackhawks and the Los Angeles Kings' series, but many writers and experts are already writing off the Blueshirts. Despite this early negativity for the Rangers, there are a few reasons to believe that this is in fact a team of destiny.
One of the best places to start is the series against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Rangers were in the midst of a 3-1 series deficit, something they have never overcome in their history, in the second round of the playoffs. Instead or rolling over and dying, the Blueshirts marched onward to win three straight games against the Penguins.
This performance was something that hadn't been seen before, so once it was completed it was fair to say that there was something special about this team. Then there was the Rangers' last series against the Canadiens. With wins in Game 1 and 2 at the Bell Centre, the 2013-14 Rangers became the first team in franchise history to win back-to-back road games to start the Eastern Conference Final.
The Rangers also snapped their streak of dropping 12 consecutive Game 2s, and it was a relief for the team to be able to take a 2-0 lead instead of a 1-1 split for a change. Speaking of Game 2, with a victory against the Canadiens, the Rangers became the first team in this year's playoffs to win a game despite not scoring the first goal.
Moving on to Game 4, the Rangers held a 2-1 series lead, and they were looking to improve to 3-1. The Rangers played a solid game, but overtime would be required. In Game 3 the Rangers dropped a game in overtime, and they were looking to finally exact revenge against the Canadiens.
After St. Louis sniped a shot past the glove of Dustin Tokarski, the Rangers took a 3-1 series lead and their first overtime win against the Canadiens since 1979. It was a great feat, but in this series the Rangers would spit in the face of history one more time.
During the Blueshirts’ final game against the Canadiens, they snapped a streak that had been going on for six years. With a series-clinching win in Game 6, the Rangers' won their first series in less than seven games for the first time since 2008.
One of the reasons the Blueshirts have been unsuccessful in the playoffs the last few years has been because of their inability to put a team away in less than seven games. The Blueshirts finally did that this season, and it is something they have to be feeling good about.
It goes without saying that the above incidents are all random events that have come to fruition. There is no true empirical meaning behind them, and statistically they tell us very little.
It is known that Henrik Lundqvist is playing the best hockey of his career, and it is known that multiple players have stepped up for the Rangers. Could the team be playing a little better? Of course, but it is safe to say that the extended rest will have the Blueshirts prepared for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on June 4.
Right now the Rangers are a very good story, and a team that has defied the odds at every corner so far in the playoffs. By all accounts they shouldn’t be here, but something has helped them overcome the odds.
The Rangers may not be the best team remaining in the league right now. There is no telling how they will match up against the Western Conference champion. However, there is enough reason to believe that this team has played well enough to be here; it is a special group of players and a team that shouldn’t be taken lightly at this stage of the game.
*Situational statistics via MSG's Rangers' Post Game
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