As the New York Rangers started their series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, they were staring fate right in the face. They had never beaten the Penguins in a best of seven series. Not in 1989, 1992 or 1996.
As the series progressed, they were booed off the ice in Game 4 to go down 3-1, and were looking at another, larger issue.
Sixteen times the Rangers have been down in a series 3-1 - with zero wins. In the almost 90 years of existence, the Rangers have never come back from a 3-1 playoff deficit. Sixteen times. This includes Stanley Cup Finals losses to the Bruins in 1972 and Canadiens in 1979. There were no comebacks in the 70’s against the Blackhawks; 80’s against the Flyers and Islanders; 90’s against the Penguins and 00’s against Devils. Zero, nada, zilch.
Well, all the boogeymen can go back into the closet! The Rangers are officially one of “those” teams. Teams that come back against the odds. Teams that pull off upsets.
They’re now a successful underdog.
The Rangers defeat of the Penguins in a seven-game roller coaster of a series could potentially mark a turning point in the team’s history. Exorcizing two demons in a series, the Rangers survived consecutive shut outs and being booed off their home ice. They overcame the sudden passing of the mother of one of their influential (if not newer) leaders, Martin St. Louis. They were simply as un-Ranger-like as they could possibly be – gritty, tough, and self-sacrificing. The Rangers showed more heart in the final three games of this series then at any time since 1994.
St. Louis started the turn around, but was nowhere near ice when he made the biggest decision of the series. Citing his mother’s and family’s wishes, he chose to play Game 5 with the Rangers down 3-1. The team went from a demoralized, exhausted, twice shut out group to an inspired, energized, dedicated group, taking the emotional edge from their new leader’s example.
Of course it didn’t hurt to have the hot goalie. Henrik Lundquist proved himself to be as solid as a rock, stopping shot after point-blank shot from one of the best finishing teams in the NHL. In comparison, Penguin goalie Marc-Andre Fleury went from being a wall to being a sieve, as Chris Kreider put one in from an impossible angle (for a left-hand shot) to start the Game 5 scoring and Carl Hagelin beat him with a savable backhand in Game 6 (after a St. Louis kick in put the Rangers up 1-0). By the time Game 7 started, I’m sure Penguin coach Dan Bylsma wished he had Tom Barrasso between the pipes – even in is current, 49 year-old, retired condition.
I know that the playoffs are only half over, but for a lifelong Ranger fan, overcoming two historical issues in one series, is enough to get one hopeful. That is, until we have to deal with Carey Price, Subban, Gionta, Briere . . .
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