Outside of hockey, one of my favorite things to do is practice yoga. The lockout has allowed me to practice more, since there’s been no need for me to blow it off to get home or to Madison Square Garden in time for opening faceoff.
When I attended class this past Thursday, the instructor opened practice talking about new year’s resolutions and how we tend to make ones to correct things that are “bad” about ourselves. She suggested looking at the good, positive things from 2012 that we’d maybe like to keep going into 2013.
Lord knows for the NHL, there’s one big, screaming “bad” that has eclipsed all the good that’s happened. As the NHL and NHLPA prepare are getting together not far from where the ball will drop, a reflection on some of the positives that the Rangers gave their fans in 2012.
January, 2012 – A Salute To The New Year
HBO’s 24/7 Road to the Winter Classic was just the appetizer for the main event. The Rangers made their Winter Classic debut on January 2nd against the Philadelphia Flyers. A benched Ilya Bryzgalov and his Thermos received most of the pregame attention, but the Rangers had a little drama of their up their sleeve. Marc Staal, who’d been sidelined all season with concussion symptoms, made his season debut in the event.
Down 2-0, the Rangers evened the score when Mike Rupp netted 2 of his own, causing a stir with his Jagr-esque salute celebration. Brad Richards would make it 3-2. It looked like the Rangers would emerge victorious until, with 22 seconds remaining, the referees awarded Danny Briere a penalty shot after Ryan McDonagh closed his hand on the puck in a crease scramble. As he did so many times, Henrik Lundqvist came up huge, stoning Briere and preserving the win for the Rangers. Not a bad way to kick off a new year.
The Rangers would wind up finishing the season a perfect 6-0 against the Flyers.
February, 2012 – “We Don’t Want You!”
The Columbus Blue Jackets’ ship sank long before the calendar flipped to 2012. General Manager Scott Howson coming out and telling the world captain Rick Nash asked for a trade made it seem a fait accompli that he would be moved.
When a big-name, big-ticket item hits the market, it doesn’t take long for the Rangers to surface as a destination. They were on the list of teams Nash would waive his no-trade clause for, and rumors began to swirl that Howson was asking for a huge return for the face of his franchise.
February 19th, days before the trade deadline, Nash and company played the Rangers at Madison Square Garden. If you’ve ever been to a game at the Garden, you know Rangers fans are not ones to keep their opinions to themselves. Fueled by either displeasure with the rumored players/prospects price tag, his hefty contract, a dislike of his playing style, or some combination, the Garden Faithful let their opinion about the rumors be heard, loud and clear:
“We don’t want you! We don’t want you!”
Nash would respond with a late 3rd period goal to tie the game at 2-2. Derek Stepan would end the game 22 seconds into overtime.
Eight days later, the trade deadline came and went without the rumored blockbuster deal happening. Glen Sather, who has proven himself quite the shrewd trade-maker, did not give up the farm to add more offense. John Scott would be the lone deadline-day acquisition. Instead of giving up the farm, this group of Rangers that had climbed to the top of the Eastern Conference, would be given a chance to see how far it could go.
April, 2012 – Playoff Hockey Hits The Big Apple
In the waning days of the regular season, the Rangers had to fend off the Pittsburgh Penguins and Flyers for Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference supremacy. For the first time since their 1994 Stanley Cup year, they finished first in the conference and secured home ice advantage for at least the first three rounds of the playoffs. While the other local professional sports teams secured back (and front) pages, the Rangers quietly compiled their 109-point regular season.
Then, as if someone turned on the Broadway lights, hockey suddenly existed in New York City. On April 11th, a 21-foot Stanley Cup fountain was set up in Times Square to mark the launch of the playoffs. Powered by New York City tap water, it gave visitors the chance to “drink from the Cup” themselves. From Times Square down to 31st Street, Manhattan was awash in Rangers colors as fans anticipated the start of Game One of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the eighth-seeded Ottawa Senators.
Underground, even the Metropolitan Transit Authority caught a case of Stanley Cup playoff fever. The “S” subway shuttle that runs between Grand Central Station and Times Square found itself decked out in red, white and blue inside and out, splashed with images of the players.
The Senators proved to be far more pesky than some anticipated. The series got chippy between the teams quickly. After being pushed around in Game 1 by the Rangers, the Senators inserted Matt Carkner into the lineup, seemingly for the sole purpose of whaling on Brian Boyle. The act that got Carkner a 1-game suspension. Carl Hagelin was suspended 3 games for a game 2 hit that concussed Daniel Alfredsson. Chris Neil would concuss Boyle in Game 5. Craig Anderson practically matched Lundqvist save-for-save. With the Rangers on the brink of elimination with a Senators’ 2-0 Game 5 victory, the Blueshirts answered the bell with a Game 6 road win. At the Garden, anxiety would turn to jubilation in the waning seconds of game 7, as they wrapped up the series with a 2-1 win. Next up in the Eastern Conference Semifinals: their recent playoff nemesis, the Washington Capitals.
May, 2012 – Boldly Going …
The Rangers reached the Eastern Conference Semifinals for the first time since 2008, and entered May with the series even at 1 game apiece. Game three would push the drama to the max in a 5-1/2 hour, triple-overtime marathon. Lundqvist made 45 saves and Marian Gaborik netted the winner at 12:14 am. Ryan McDonagh logged a staggering 53:17 in ice time.
Meanwhile, Kreidermania was running wild in New York. Chris Kreider signed a professional contract days after winning the NCAA championship with his Boston College Eagles. Inserted into the lineup against Ottawa after Hagelin was suspended, the rookie became a Garden sensation, scoring five goals (two game-winners) during the Rangers’ playoff run.
But much like the Senators, the Caps would not go quietly into the night, and they too pushed the Rangers to a game 7. The Rangers would emerge victorious and reach the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1997. Let the battle of the Hudson commence.
Unfortunately for the Rangers, two 3-0 shutouts in the series would not be enough to defeat the New Jersey Devils and advance to the Stanley Cup Finals. On May 25th, the Rangers’ unexpected season came to an end in an anticlimactic way when Adam Henrique was able to get to the loose puck and put home the overtime winner. It was not the ending Rangers fans wanted, but the season and the run showed they were much closer to a championship than most probably thought, and showed what they needed to address to take that next step.
June, 2012 – All Hail the King
Lundqvist didn’t bring home the Stanley Cup, but he did get to take a piece of NHL silver home from Las Vegas. After being the proverbial bridesmaid three times, Lundqvist took the Vezina as the top goaltender in the NHL, beating out Jonathan Quick and Pekka Rinne for the honor. Most memorably, he caught the censors napping when he inadvertently let an expletive slip while giving his acceptance speech.
July, 2012 – Nash-ville
Typically seen as the go-to team for big names and big contracts, the Rangers were one of the quieter teams as free agency opened up. They made small moves, offering short-term, low-priced contracts to players such as Jeff Halpern, Taylor Pyatt and Arron Asham. Most notable, they bid adieu to Brandon Prust, whom headed north of the border for much greener pastures.
On July 24th, word leaked out that the Rangers had acquired Nash, and fans held their breath to find out just what would be headed Columbus’ way. Kreider and Hagelin had been names bandied about when rumors flew in the winter. Howson settled for less than the moon and stars he had been demanding as the Rangers sent Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, prospect Tim Erixon and a 2013 first-round pick for Nash, Steve Delisle and a conditional third-round pick.
November, 2012 – Giving Back
Hockey fans know that when it comes to being charitable, hockey players stand front and center. Rangers fans know that the Blueshirts are active in the community, whether it’s team-sponsored functions or for their own personal charities.
When superstorm Sandy hit the east coast, it left in its wake the kind of devastation most of us had never before seen first-hand in our lifetimes. Homes swept away or burned to the ground, major roads turned into rushing rivers, massive power outages – the kinds of things you see on television happening in other places, not in your own backyard.
They might not have been playing, but it didn’t stop many of the Rangers (and other NHLers) from taking action. To help raise funds for relief, Richards organized a youth clinic on Staten Island in which ten of his teammates participated. Lundqvist put two lots up for auction to raise money – one consisting of his pads, blocker and glove, the other his mask. The mask alone fetched $66,000.00 – an auction record for that piece of equipment. Richards and Lundqvist, along with some of their other teammates and other NHLers, participated in a charity game in Atlantic City that helped raise at least $500,000.00 that went to the American Red Cross, the Empire State Relief Fund and New Jersey Hurricane Relief Fund. Of all the good from 2012, this might have been the greatest of all.
Here’s hoping that all of you have a happy, healthy new year. Here’s also hoping that the NHL and NHLPA get their act together so we see hockey in a few weeks and the Rangers can keep the good going in 2013.
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About the Author: Likes: Hockey, the New York Rangers, King Henrik, singing the Rangers goal song, "The Save", the sound skates make against ice, heckling Marty Brodeur. Dislikes: 3-point games, front-office mismanagement, Denis Potvin, overpriced arena beer. Interested? Follow me on Twitter: @CC_927