Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Best of the Rest Series: New York Rangers


The New York Rangers are one of the most storied franchises in the NHL. They are an Original Six team that dates back to 1926. The Rangers are also one of the most disappointing franchises when it comes to Stanley Cup victories. The Blueshirts have just four Stanley Cups in their history, and one cup since 1940 when there were only seven teams in the league. 

The Rangers have also had some great teams that fell short of a Stanley Cup victory. This may be difficult for some Ranger fans to read. Aside from the teams that are on this short list, Ranger fans have also had endure some terrible seasons, and that includes the younger Ranger fans that had to watch the Blueshirts miss the playoffs for seven straight seasons between 1997 and 2004. 

So here are the five greatest Ranger teams to not win the Stanley Cup:

* I chose not to include any teams before 1967 when there were only six teams. 

5. 1996-1997

 The 1996-97 New York Rangers were loaded with future Hall of Famers who underachieved during the regular season. With a roster filled with names like Messier, Gretzky, Leetch, Robitaille, Graves, Richter, and Kovalev, Ranger fans were expecting big things in 1996. 

Graves and Messier both posted 30 goal seasons, and Gretzky put up 97 points during the regular season (97 points from Gretzky is underachieving). The Rangers managed a 38-34- 10 record, good enough for fifth in the Eastern Conference. It was a mediocre season for the Blueshirts, but as we all know if you can get to the playoffs, anything can happen. 

In the quarter-finals, the Rangers took on the Florida Panthers. The Panthers took game one 3-0, and that was the last win they would get in the series. The Rangers turned the tables in game two and shutout the Panthers 3-0.  The Rangers had a 2-1 series lead going into Game 4 when Wayne Gretzky put on one of the greatest performances in Madison Square Garden history. With the Rangers trailing 2-0 in the second period, Gretzky three times in a span of seven minutes to record his ninth career playoff hat trick and give the Rangers a 3-2 win and 3-1 series lead. Esa Tikkanen ended the series with an overtime winner in Game 5 and sent the Rangers to a semi-finals meeting with the top seeded New Jersey Devils. 

Like their first round series, the Rangers were shutout in Game 1 by the Devils 2-0, but came back in the second game to win 2-0. The Rangers took the next two games and again had the chance to win the series on their opponent's ice. In Game 5 the Devils and Rangers were tied at one after regulation and needed overtime to decide the winner. In overtime Adam Graves beat Martin Brodeur on a wrap around to Brodeur's left, and sent the Rangers to the Conference Finals. It was the second time in four years the Rangers eliminated the Devils on an overtime wrap around goal (Matteau! Matteau! Matteau!).
The Rangers faced the Philadelphia Flyers in the Conference Finals and lost the series in five games. It was a tough end to a great playoff run by the veteran led Rangers. A Conference Finals berth was unexpected after a sub par seaso, but the Rangers showed their grit and determination throughout their run.

Unfortunately for the Rangers and their fans, the Rangers did not make the playoffs again until the 2005-06 season, a seven year drought. 

4. 1991-1992

Most Ranger fans will say that this team was the most disappointing teams in the Rangers history, except maybe for the 1992-93 team that followed this one. The Rangers brought in Mark Messier, along with Adam Graves, and Jeff Beukeboom to lead their organization back to the promised land. The Rangers brought these players in because they knew how to win, and with the talent the Rangers already had on their team, could bring their winning ways to New York. 

The Rangers fans were not disappointed during the 1991 regular season. The Rangers posted a 50- 25- 5 record and captured the President's Trophy as the top team in the league. Messier came as advertised and led the team with 107 points during the season. The Rangers also had five players eclipse the 30 goal mark led by Mike Gartner who scored 40. 

In the Division semi-finals, the top seeded Rangers got all they could handle from the New Jersey Devils. The Rangers were able to hold off Jersey and take the series in seven games, and a heated rivalry was born bewtween the two teams. In game six at the Meadowlands, with five seconds left and the Rangers down 5-3, a brawl erupted at center ice. Tie Domi looked to be the initial culprit coming off the bench to fight, but Adam Graves joined in when he fought Claude Lemieux. The Rangers took Game 7 8-4, and moved on to the division finals against Pittsburgh. 

The Rangers took a 2-1 series lead, but the Penguins won the next three games including a 5-1 series clinching win at Civic Arena. The Penguins went on to win the Stanley Cup, and the Rangers continued to be haunted by the ghosts of 1940. The following season, the Rangers struggled during the regular season and failed to reach the playoffs. The frustration continued for the Ranger faithful for one more year. 

3. 2011-2012

During the 2011 off-season, the Rangers went out and signed free agent Brad Richards. Richards was expected to help boost the Rangers offense, and quarterback the power play.  After struggling through the first nine games with a 3-3-3 record, head coach John Tortorella got his team to turn their season in the right direction.  The Rangers went 13-2-0 over there next 15 games and began their climb to the top of the Eastern Confernce. 

Richards and Marian Gaborik led the Rangers offensive attack. Gaborik scored a team high 42 goals and the regular season, and Richards netted 25 goals to go along with 41 assists. Ranger captain Ryan Callahan also contributed with 29 goals of his own. 

The Rangers finished with 109 pts and earned the top seed in the Eastern Conference. The Rangers looked like the odds on favorite to get to the Stanley Cup Finals with their eventual Vezina Trophy winning goalie Henrik Lundqvist. The only question was whether the Rangers offense, which had been criticized during the regular season, could produce in playoffs. 

The Rangers were forced to seven games in their first two series. In the first round, the Ottawa Senators had a 3-2 series lead with Game 6 in Ottawa, but a resiliant Ranger team battled to a 3-2 victory and forced a Game 7 at the Garden. In Game 7 the Rangers used goals by Marc Staal and Dan Girardi, and a stellar performance by Henrik Lundqvist to hold on for a 2-1 victory. 

In the second round, against the Washington Capitals, the Rangers were twenty one seconds away from falling behind 3-2 in the series. Joel Ward took a double minor for high-sticking Carl Hagelin, and the Rangers had one last shot to tie the game. As the clock rapidly approached zero's, Michael Del Zotto threw a shot to the net that was jabbed at by Ryan Callahan. Just as Caps goalie Braden Holtby was going to cover it up, Brad Richards poked the puck off the far post and in to tie the game at 2. Marc Staal scored less than two mi utes into overtime and the Rangers took a 3-2 series lead. After dropping Game 6 the Rangers took Game 7 2-1 and advanced to their first Eastern Confernce Finals since 1997.

The Rangers faced a familiar foe in the New Jersey Devils who took down the high scoring Philadelphia Flyers in the Conference Semi-finals. The Rangers were outplayed by the Devils and faced elimination in Game 6 at the Prudential Center. After trailing 2-0, the Rangers came back to tie the game and send it to overtime. Unfortunately, this time the Rangers were on the losing end of the contest. Adam Henrique swept home a rebound less than a minute into overtime, and just like that, the Rangers season was ended. The Rangers flirted with danger all through the playoffs and it finally got them. 

The 2011-12 season gave Ranger fans hope for the future with many young players on the rise. Now it's time for the Rangers to figure out their offense and how to put the puck in the net more often. So far the acquisition of Rick Nash has paid off for the Blueshirts. 

2. 1978-1979

The 1978 New York Rangers were a team that posted 40 wins during the regular season, but were still seen as the inferior team in New York. The New York Islanders were a team on the rise in the late 70's and in 1978 won the Patrick Division by 21 points over the Philadelphia Flyers. The Islanders looked to be a lock for the Stanley Cup Finals.
Led by Anders Hedberg and Phil Esposito, the Rangers scored 316 goals in the regular season, fourth most in franchise history, and qualified as the fifth seed in the playoffs.  After disposing of the Los Angeles Kings in the preliminary round, the Rangers faced-off with the Philadelphia Flyers in the quarter-finals. 

The Flyers took Game 1 3-2 in overtime, and then the Rangers put a beating on the Broad Street Bullies that lasted the next four games. The Rangers outscored the Flyers 26-5 in those four games and took the series in five. 

The Rangers then faced their cross-town rivals, and top seed in the playoffs, the New York Islanders. The Rangers relished the underdog role and looked to knock off the high powerd Islanders. It was a back-and-forth series with the teams traded wins through the first five games, andnthe Rangers held a 3-2 series lead going into game six at Madison Square Garden. The Rangers took down the Islanders 2-1 in a spirited game, and the Rangers were headed back to the Stanley Cup Finals against the Montreal Canadiens. 

The Rangers took game one of the series 4-1, but the Canadiens were too much for the Blueshirts. The Habs went on to win the series in five games, and won their 22nd Stanley Cup. 

What Ranger fans will remember most about this team was their semi-finals victory over the New York Islanders. Since this playoff series the Islanders and Rangers have met six times in the playoffs. The Islanders dominated the playoff series in the 80's, but the Rangers have won the last two meetings in the post-season including 1993-94 when they last won the Stanley Cup. 

1. 1971-1972

This Rangers team was the best team to not win a championship in the Rangers 87 years. They were loaded with offensive weapons like Vic Hadfield, Jean Ratelle, and Rod Gilbert. 

This trio, also known as the Goal A Game line, combined for 139 goals in the regular season. Hadfield became the first 50 goal scorer in the 1971-72 season, and also had 106 points. Ratelle led the team with 109 points (46 G, 63 A), and Gilbert added 43 goals. 

The Rangers finished the season 48-17-13 and 109 pts. They finished second in the NHL behind Bobby Orr and the Boston Bruins. In the league quarter-finals, playoff format was different,  the Rangers disposed of the defending champion Montreal Canadiens in six games. In the semi-finals, the Rangers made quick work of the Chicago Blackhawk who were the top seed. In the West. The Rangers swept the Hawks in four games and setup a finals match with the Boston Bruins. 

The Rangers dropped a hard fought series to the Bruins in six games. The Bruins seemed to be the only team that could stop the Rangers, and they did. The GAG line was one of the most entertaining lines in the NHL averaging a goal a game when they played on the same line. It was a year full excitement and undeniable joy for the Ranger faithful who had not seen their team win the cup since 1940. If it weren't for the Bruins and the greatest defenseman of all-time, Bobby Orr, the Rangers Stanley Cup curse would have ended much sooner. 

Up Next: New York Mets

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