2014 Stanley Cup Finals.
Game 1: Dan Girardi. The superb and usually dependable Ranger defenseman commits an egregious turnover that leads directly to the game-winning overtime goal by eventual Conn Smythe Trophy winner Justin Williams giving the LA Kings a 1-0 series lead.
Game 2: With the Rangers holding a 4-2 third period lead and in complete control of the affair, referee Dan O’ Halloran decided to let a controversial Los Angeles goal stand even though Kings forward Dwight King (no relation) plowed over the valiant but incredulous Ranger net-minder Henrik Lundqvist in an obvious goalie interference infraction. Obvious to everyone except the officials that is. The Blueshirts would not recover from the O’Halloran gaffe and would end up losing, again, in overtime giving the Kings a 2-0 series lead.
Game 5: Overtime. With the Stanley Cup and the Rangers season hanging in the balance, their best offensive player, Rick Nash was an inch width of a Kings player’s stick from burying the game-winner and sending the Finals back to Gotham for an assuredly electric game six. Instead, Nash’s shot deflects off the stick of defenseman Slava Voynov and flutters harmlessly wide giving the Kings a reprieve. And, wouldn’t you know it, fellow Los Angeles blue-liner Alec Martinez rockets himself into Stanley Cup lore, scoring the golden goal off a rebound to give the Kings their second Stanley Cup championship in a three-year span.
Rehashing the outcome of the Stanley Cup Finals series that took place exactly five years ago is not the purpose of this piece. Unearthing the pain that had been recently sequestered is certainly not my intention.
You see, the 2014 Ranger team, as a group, should be honored and celebrated. After all, AV’s squad is the only Band of Blueshirts to compete for hockey’s Holy Grail since Mark Messier and Co. slew the 1940 monster 25 years ago and was only the fifth Ranger team to reach the cup finals in the last 79 years.
The wounds and the scars and the bad memories and the heartbreak are still very much fresh in the minds of the Garden Faithful and rightfully so. However, when you really sit down and calm down, you can come to the concussion and realization of what a special team and special season that was.
The 2013-14 regular season, under first-year head coach Alain Vigneault, was a bit of struggle early on. Once the players adjusted to the new system of their new coach, the Rangers began their climb up the standings finishing second in the Metropolitan Division and had a first-round match-up with their bitter rivals from down the Jersey Turnpike, the Philadelphia Flyers. It took seven hard-fought and at times excruciating games, but the Rangers found a way to beat their orange and black-clad nemesis to advance to the next round.
The Rangers would then face off against Pennsylvania’s other hockey team, the Pittsburgh Penguins. Down 3-1 in the series, the team received the sad news of the unfortunate passing of beloved teammate Marty St Louis’ mother, France. The Blueshirts would rally around their mourning comrade to storm back, win the final three games and advance to the Conference Finals.
Their opponent, the team they would battle for the right to play for Lord Stanley’s Cup, was the Montreal Canadiens. Henrik Lundqvist would turn the Bell Center, which was once his House of Horrors, into his own personal redemption center, back-stopping his hockey team to a 2-0 series lead. Game six back in New York proved to be a coronation for ‘The King” as Lundqvist, and a timely goal from grinder Dominic Moore proved to be the difference in the Rangers 1-0 victory sending Rangerstown into an absolute frenzy.
Folks, I have no illusions. I am fully aware that “almost” only counts in “horseshoes and hand-grenades” as the saying goes. I am not one for moral victories. Heck, I even wrote a book about my lack of championships and all of the “suffering” my sports teams have put me through. I want to witness my heroes accepting trophies from their respective league commissioner instead of consolatory pats-on-the-back.
Five years after the fact, I am finally at peace with how the 2014 playoff run ended. The euphoric Kings players celebrating just a few feet from the exasperated and sprawled out Henrik Lundqvist is a visual I won’t soon forget. However, as painful as that memory is, my goodness, there was so much to be proud of from that march to the finals.
The Rangers beat the Flyers in a playoff series for the first time since 1986.
The Rangers beat the Penguins in a playoff series for the first time ever, while also becoming the first Blueshirt squad to overcome a 3-1 series deficit.
The Rangers clinched the Eastern Conference Championship on home ice in front of the Garden Faithful with their scintillating 1-0 triumph in game six.
The Rangers represented themselves with pride and dignity in the finals going tooth-for-tooth with the bigger, stronger and more talented Los Angeles Kings. A different bounce here, a changed referee call there and the Canyon of Heroes could have very well seen another red, white and blue mid-June parade. Be that as it may, as frustrating as the series with the Kings was with an outcome that will forever be hard-to-swallow, the 2014 New York Rangers season and playoff run are one to be proud of.