By Steve Kallas
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By now you’ve probably seen the play a number of times. Canadiens-Rangers, New York up in games 3-2, Game 6, second period, scoreless as Montreal comes across the blue line (about 4:55 left in the period). Thomas Vanek of the Canadiens, moving from his right to left towards the Rangers goal, goes to his backhand (to Henrik Lundqvist’s right) and is in virtually all alone.
The next closest player to the goal (besides, of course, The King) is Michael Bournival (No. 49), who is on the other side of the net, all by himself:
Dan Girardi makes a great diving play (laying out with his stick extended on the ice) to stop what looks like, on multiple reviews, a pass across the crease from Vanek to Bournival. Lundqvist is already sliding over, seeing the attempted pass, to the other side of the net.
But Girardi deflects the puck into the air and it’s headed into the goal at the spot vacated by Lundqvist as he is moving to the other side. Almost miraculously, and with world-class reflexes that are hard to imagine, The King swings his right (stick) arm to his right while moving left, loses his goalie stick, and somehow bats the puck, which is in mid-air, away from the goal.
It was without question one of the greatest saves ever. Maybe the greatest save ever? It clearly was not one of those “lucky” great saves where a goalie, for example, is sliding over to try and stop a shot, his body getting over there too late, but the shot hits the shaft of the goalie’s stick and is deflected from going in.
WHY WAS IT SO IMPORTANT?
Well, you probably know (especially if you are a longtime Ranger fan) why it was so important. With a poor performance by both The King and the Rangers in a 7-4 loss in Game 5 (despite the comeback to tie from 4-1 down), the Rangers needed to score first and not go back to Montreal for a Game 7.
The Rangers, up 3-1 in the series, lost Game 5 and, while you never know what would have happened, you had the feeling that whichever team scored first was going to win Game 6. We’ll never know, of course, but just a few minutes later, quiet hero Dominic Moore scored the game’s only goal on a beautiful pass from Brian Boyle, beating coming-of-age goaltender Dustin Tokarski for what proved to be the game’s only goal.
Rangers 1, Canadiens 0. Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in 20 years.
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
Well, the Rangers will be an underdog to whichever team (the Kings or the Blackhawks) comes out of the West. Both are formidable opponents, both with Stanley Cup victories in recent years (Chicago in 2013 and 2010; LA in 2012 ).
Both have Cup-winning goalies in Chicago’s Corey Crawford and LA’s Jonathan Quick (also the Conn Smythe Trophy winner for MVP of the playoffs in ’12).
That is something that the Rangers don’t have, and plenty of championship experience is certainly something a team would like to have going into the Cup finals.
But if you buy into the team of destiny stuff (the passing of Martin St. Louis’s mother — and hasn’t St. Louis put to bed all of the questions about the Ryan Callahan trade?), the great play (with a few exceptions) of Lundqvist, who is as good or better than the remaining goalies in the playoffs (despite not winning the Cup yet) and the inspired play of the Rangers and the inspired coaching of Alain Vigneault (he, unlike John Tortorella, allows his players to make defensive mistakes because he knows that comes with the package of a gifted offensive player), well, the Rangers have put themselves in a good position to win their fifth Stanley Cup.
WHAT ABOUT THE RANGERS FANS?
Well, I’ve heard a lot of non-hockey people talk about how Rangers fans are saying “The Cup is ours this year” or things like that.
This writer, a Rangers fan (as a little kid) since the days of the six-team NHL, once upon a time was happy, as were many Ranger fans during those dark days, when the lowly Rangers could beat out the lowly Bruins for fifth place, and, of course, not make the playoffs. Then the Rangers finally made the playoffs in 1966-67, were swept by the powerful Canadiens in the first round – and received a standing ovation from the Garden faithful at the “old” Madison Square Garden. (For you real old-timers, that was when, in OT, Red Berenson of the Rangers hit the post and big, bad John Ferguson of the Canadiens scored the game-winner to eliminate the Rangers.)
If you’ve lived through any part of the 54-year drought that ended in 1994, you know better than to publicly say things like the Rangers will win the Cup this year. In fact, the true Ranger fan, in 1994, was still holding his or her breath with 1.6 seconds left, before that final face-off to Mike Richter’s right, knowing full well that anything could happen.
In fact, many of us, for the last 20 years, thought indeed that Sam Rosen was right, in that “This one will last a lifetime.” But, thankfully, 20 years later, we can hope (hope, not know) that a second Cup in “our” lifetime is, at least, a possibility.
So, yes, the Rangers are in the Final and they certainly have a chance to win. But I find it hard to believe that any longtime Rangers fan who understands the game will come out with such blanket statements.
It starts on Wednesday.
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