We are about to witness the most anticipated, exciting, edge of your seat, nail-bitingly fantastic 4-7 NHL games played this year. In my opinion, baseball season doesn’t start until the Stanley Cup is lifted. Chicago is in and will be facing Philadelphia, both looking to end a sizable championship drought. But wouldn’t it have been nice if the Rangers made the playoffs instead of Philly and were gearing up for a Stanley Cup final appearance? Sure, but it never would’ve happened.
The last game of the regular season saw Philadelphia facing the Rangers, the winner taking the last available playoff spot. I still cringe when I think of those fatal words spoken by the announcer, stating that the only hope remaining for the Rangers was on Olli Jokinen’s stick. And of course, Olli half-assed his penalty shot attempt and Philly was in. At least Sam Rosen made the playoffs.
But even if the Rangers had won that game, they would not have made it to the Stanley Cup finals, nor did they deserve to. They haven’t had a real shot in quite some time, even though they’ve consistently been a playoff team since the lockout. This year’s team was far over matched by most Eastern and Western Conference teams, and without the almighty Hank in net they would’ve been a basement dweller looking at a great lottery pick. I think Washington would have wiped the floor with the Rangers in the first round, and we’d probably be watching Ovechkin’s team heading to the finals. So for that I’m happy Philly made it, but I’m definitely rooting for Chicago.
Chicago has a great loyal fan base starved for Stanley, much like Ranger fans before 1994. They have a great young talented group who play as a team and who learned valuable playoff lessons after last year’s exit, and they should be favored to win the final series. They also have one of the great logos in the league, and I used to wear their jersey on my youth hockey team so I have a sweet spot for it. The Rangers need to use Chicago’s rebuild and resurgence as a guide to the future if they ever want to make a legitimate run for the cup.
So after the Cup finals, like every year, there will be a long hockey-less summer. The summer is filled with post-mortem reports, Free-Agent speculation, surgeries, retirements, pre-season team rankings, and hopefully trades. Oh yeah, and more speculation.
What bloated contract will Sather try to get rid of? Will a certain defenseman finally be buried in the minors? Will they try to sign a blue chip FA (Kovalchuk, Marleau)? What new contract will we scoff at 2 years from now? How many goals can Gabby score with some offensive support? What new upcoming young talents will sizzle or fizzle at the top level? Is this the year for Hank to reach 40 wins? Is it finally his Vezina year? How much more hair can I lose watching next season?
Even though next season’s chances at a Cup run may still be bleak, I can’t freaking wait for opening night!