One more hill to climb, baby!!
Yes, it’s been 20 years since the Rangers reached the fourth round of the playoffs and for a large portion of it, you had to wonder if it would take another 54 years.
Mismanagement in the late 1990s and early 2000s resulted in the Blueshirts missing the playoffs for seven years.
But that seems so long ago.
In fact the Ranger revival actually started nine years ago when they promotes a 23 year-old goaltender named Henrik Lundqvist.
And for seven of the last nine years, they have been in the playoffs and now, finally they are playing for a change to raise the Stanley Cup.
“Yeah, it was definitely a test for us,” Lundqvist said. “I just felt the patience from the entire coaching staff. They understood. We talked about this earlier, but they understood the process for us to get to where we needed to be to be a successful team. But we did change a lot of things going into the season. I think it was a time where we had to find ourselves a little bit as a group”
Coach Alain Vigneault came in and has been a very calming influence on this Rangers club. After years of dealing with John Tortorella, who wore the team down, Vigneault molded the Rangers into a team that uses its speed to its advantage.
And it showed last night in the 1-0 clincher at the Garden. The Ranger speed was no match for the Montreal defense who showed serious signs of fatigue in Game 6.
It was the Rangers speed that gave the Habs fits all night and ultimately limited Montreal to 19 shots on goal.
Only Dustin Tokarski kept his team in the match, stopping 31 of the Ranger shots.
Unlike 20 years ago, where the Mark Messier led Blueshirts went through a war with the Devils and then faced a Vancouver team that shouldn’t of been on the same level, these Rangers now go to a Finals against either of the last two Stanley Cup winners in the Blackhawks or Kings, both of whom are tried and tested and give these Rangers an uphill battle.
Fortunately, they have five days to rest, as Game 1 is scheduled for next Wednesday.
“It’s going to be good for us to get a couple of days to recharge,” Lundqvist said. “ I think, mentally, too, to let it sink in a little bit and enjoy it for a day or two. Then you start preparing for the next challenge. You know, it’s going to be a great challenge. We’re going to play against a really good team. It’s about, for us, in the room to remind each other that this is such a special moment that you have to grab it. You have to make sure you’re ready and play your absolute best. You’re not going to get that many opportunities. I’ve been here for nine years. This is my first final, and now it’s all about preparing the right way and try to leave it all out there.”
One more hill to climb, indeed.