Contrary to popular belief, it is NOT an easy task to qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs. Prior to expansion from 21 to 30 teams, it was a different story; 16 of 21 teams (76%) made it to the spring tournament. But not now. Sixteen of 30 will play past April 10 (53.3%). That means that 46.7% of the NHL franchises will be watching on television.
Those numbers make it even more remarkable that the Rangers are heading to the post-season for the 10th time in the last 11 seasons. Only THREE other teams – the Detroit Red Wings (24 season playoff streak still in jeopardy), Pittsburgh Penguins (missed in 2005-06) and San Jose Sharks (out of the playoffs last year) – can make the same proclamation.
The only season the Blueshirts missed the playoffs during the recent stretch (2009-10), the post-season berth came down to a shootout in regular season game No. 82 in Philadelphia. Which means the Rangers have not played a meaningless game since the regular season finale on April 3, 2004, in Washington, a game won on an overtime goal by Bobby Holik.
The last 11 seasons have been an extraordinary period in franchise history. Nine hundred and seventy-seven games. 865 in the regular season (prior to Tuesday’s contest against Tampa Bay) plus another 112 (!) in the post-season. Only the Red Wings (123) and Blackhawks (117) have played more post-season games than the Blueshirts since 2005-06. Over the last four post-seasons, the Rangers have played the MOST (76) games in the playoffs.
It is no coincidence that the 10-of-11 streak began during Henrik Lundqvist‘s rookie season. Although, I like to kid my radio partner Dave Maloney that HE is the reason for the team’s success. The former Rangers captain began his full-time stint in the MSG Radio booth the same day (October 5, 2005 in Philadelphia) that Henrik dressed in a Rangers uniform for the first time in the regular season.
The Rangers have given their followers so many spine-tingling memories during this historical era. Nineteen playoff series. Three trips to the Eastern Conference Final in the last four years. A Stanley Cup Final series, which included three overtime games. Game 7 home wins against Ottawa, Washington (twice) and Philadelphia. Game 7 road wins in Washington and Pittsburgh. Comebacks from 3-1 deficits in the second round each of the last two seasons.
With apologies to head coach Alain Vigneault, now that the Blueshirts have “the checkmark” next to their name in the standings, it is time to take “another kick at the can.” Time for the Rangers to create more exhilarating memories for the Garden Faithful.