Okay so they didn’t win The Cup.
But in bowing out on Friday night, 3-2, in double sudden death overtime to the champion Kings in Los Angeles, the Rangers won something equally important — the admiration of their fans, coaches, management, the rest of the league, and even casual sports fans in the city of New York.
Sure everyone wanted the Blueshirts to take the mug, but we knew from the get-go that the odds were against it. Yet in one of the most exciting, well-played games imaginable, the New Yorkers were a goal post away from bringing the series back to The Big Apple.
Alain Vigneault’s stick handlers competed as hard as one could imagine. They came from behind a 1-0 first period deficit, and took a 2-1 lead into the third period. The coup de grace was applied at 14:43 in the second overtime on a rebound shot off an initial save by Henrik Lundqvist. Defenseman Alec Martinez was the one who torpedoed the Rangers hope for another title.
“The rebound came to me and I put it in,” said Martinez. “I was the benefactor.”
The victim was King Henrik, who faced 51 shots compared to 30 for Jonathan Quick. Lundqvist was helpless to stop the winning shot by Martinez.
But simply by reaching the final playoff round, the Blueshirts demonstrated that they performed above and beyond the call of duty, improving with each round. Time and again the Rangers came within inches of taking the game.
Rick Nash had the best chance of all when his shot at an open net in the second overtime was barely deflected over the net by Kings defenseman Slava Voynov.
It was a game in which the Rangers put themselves behind the eight ball from the get-go when Nash took a hooking penalty at 1:44 into the first. Lundqvist saved them on the PK, but he was helpless in a scramble in front of the net when Justin Williams put it through the goaltender’s legs at 6:04 of the opening frame.
For more than a period and a half Kings goalie Jonathan Quick had shutout written all over him. But a Blueshirts power play paid off at 15:37 of the middle stanza on a tic-tac-toe passing play that was crafted by Brad Richards.
The Rangers veteran center moved the puck cross ice from the point to Ryan McDonagh, who then sent it back cross the ice for a one-timer deflected into the net by Chris Kreider, who was standing in front of Quick.
New York seemed to be in trouble when Dominic Moore took a hooking penalty at 17:37 of the middle period.
However, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise when Carl Hagelin set up a breaking Brian Boyle, who delivered the rubber into the perfect spot — top right on Quick — while the Rangers were short-handed.
The second period ended 2-1 Rangers, but the Blueshirts lost their advantage with a questionable penalty called early in the third period. Mats Zuccarello and Jake Muzzin collided leg-on-leg and Zuccarello was called for the tripping minor. If anything it appeared the King defenseman merited the penalty if any were to be called.
The NBC broadcast team acknowledged as much. “Muzzin stuck his leg out,” said NBC’s Keith Jones after Eddie Olczyk acknowledged the same. But there was no changing the decision, much to the Rangers dismay.
Once again Lundqvist was victimized after making the initial save out of a scramble. But Marian Gaborik followed up and poked it in at 7:56 for the power play counter.
From there to the finish the offense belonged almost entirely to the Kings right down to the last seconds leaving Lundqvist almost abandoned by his mates. Yet “The King” held on enough to enable the team to move to a sudden death overtime.
Based on the Kings overwhelming domination of the third period, one would be hard pressed to figure how the Rangers would possibly prevail.
Yet in the first overtime the New Yorkers — though often outplayed — had their chances to close this latest heart-throbbing chapter. On one occasion Ryan McDonagh beat Quick and hit the post. And in the final seconds of the first overtime Chris Kreider’s shot was foiled by Quick on a breakaway.
“We hit a bunch of posts,” said Martin St. Louis, a Rangers hero throughout the playoffs.
When the second overtime began another question bedeviling both teams was fatigue. The relentless back-and-forth action finally came to a close on the shot that ended with the indomitable Lundqvist flat on the ice. “The Rangers,” Martinez concluded, “are a great team.”
Fair enough, but not lucky enough!
MAVEN’S FUN FACT
Bill Chadwick was the unlikeliest Cup Final referee of all-time. For starters, he was the only New York-born NHL referee in league history.
For another, Bill was the only big-league official who was blind in one eye.
Nevertheless, Chadwick emerged in the early 1940s as one of the best officials ever, and eventually gained entrance into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
During one Final series a fan screamed at Chadwick “Bill you’re blind!”. Bill thought for a moment and then shot back to himself “Bet that guy doesn’t know it, but he’s half-right!”