Madison Square Garden: Home Sweet Home?
The New York Rangers’ 2013-14 season culminated in an unforgettable postseason run through the Eastern Conference and a berth in the Stanley Cup finals, where the Blueshirts came up a few overtime goals short of bringing home their first Cup championship in 20 years.
With the memories of that memorable playoff run now in the rearview mirror and the puck ready to drop on a new season, the obvious questions all Rangers’ fans are asking is, “Can we do it again?” and “Can we take the next step?”
Can the Rangers win without the services of players like Brian Boyle, Anton Stralman and Benoit Pouliot, all lost to free agency? What about the young guys like Anthony Duclair, Kevin Hayes, and Jesper Fast?
Those are all legitimate concerns among the Garden faithful as they prepare to cheer on their favorite team at the world’s most famous arena. Ironically, the odds of the Rangers’ repeating as Eastern Conference champions may begin and end on Garden ice.
Last year, the Blueshirts owned a better road record (25-14-2) during the regular season than they did a home record (20-17-4). That home record didn’t improve much during the postseason (7-5), as Henrik Lundquist and company played their best hockey in opposing rinks. While being a solid road team is important, being a dominant team on home ice and making your home rink a difficult place for the opposition to play is even more important for championship-caliber teams.
Let’s face it Rangers fans, several Eastern Conference teams have improved dramatically in the offseason. Tampa Bay, with a healthy Steven Stamkos and former Rangers Ryan Callahan, Stralman, and Boyle and big Ben Bishop between the pipes, are suddenly legitimate contenders. So are the Columbus Blue Jackets, with recently re-signed Ryan Johansen, former Ranger Brandon Dubinsky, and Vezina-caliber netminder Sergei Bobrovsky.
The talent-laden Penguins too, will be out for revenge after blowing a 3-1 series lead against the Blueshirts in the second round of the playoffs, and the Bruins are still the team you’re glad you didn’t have to face during the playoff run last spring. And watch out for young up-and-coming teams like the New York Islanders, with a healthy John Tavares and a revamped roster that includes veterans Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy on the blueline. And don’t forget about our friends in Philly and across the river in New Jersey.
Is it impossible for the Rangers to repeat as Eastern Conference champions? Certainly not. With a roster that includes the likes of Rick Nash, Martin St. Louis, Derek Stepan, Dan Boyle, Chris Kreider, and of course, King Henrik in goal, the Blueshirts can certainly build on last year’s postseason success.
But that step forward must begin when they step on the Garden ice.
Winning at Home Means Success (Last 5 Years)
2013-14 / 20-17-4 at home / 96 points / 5th seed (Lost in Final)
2012-13 / 10-12-2 at home / 56 points / 6th seed (short season)
2011-12 / 27-12-2 at home / 109 points / 1st seed (Lost in ECF)
2010-11 / 20-17-4 at home / 93 points / 8th seed (Lost in 1st rd)
2009-10 / 18-17-6 at home / 87 points / 9th seed (missed playoffs)