This was hockey like it oughta be.
It was intense, heart stopping and pulsating and kept your interest from the moment Daniel Rodriguez sang the National Anthem up until Derek Stepan’s game winner in overtime.
It was pure sports entertainment from professional athletes, who still have an enjoyment of their given profession.
And maybe the best sports moment that Madison Square Garden has seen in the recent past, which includes the Blueshirt runs from the past few seasons.
“Obviously it’s a huge win to get us to the conference finals,” said defenseman Marc Staal. “We were here last year and we’re a confident team. Now the shift goes to Tampa for Game 1.”
If the Rangers go on to win that ever elusive Stanley Cup, they will look back on this series as the turning point. Much like last year, they were down 3-1 in Round 2 and then stormed back for improbable wins in both series, but unlike last year, there’s a more business-like manner to this team, one that expects to win and play in June.
“Even though we were behind, I thought we were playing well,” said coach Alain Vigneault. “It was a matter of staying with the process and that’s what we did.”
Believe it or not, the Rangers are only halfway there. It takes 16 wins and they got eight. But as they round the curve they find themselves facing another tough opponent in the Tampa Bay Lightning, which features a tough goalie, all world scorer and some hard hitting players that will fore-check you (sound familiar), but added this mix are the number of ex-Rangers on the roster, including Brian Boyle, Anton Stralman and Ryan Callahan, who is on the shelf after having his appendix out.
It’s not going to be an easy series by any means. In fact, the Lightning handled the Rangers pretty well in the regular season, but they ended their season series early on in December and this is a very different team.
It’s one that can face adversity and win against a tough opponent.
“I think it’s important that you stay focused on the positives,” said netminder Henrik Lundqvist. “They [Washington] won three out of the four but it was close games. That’s important to know that you don’t need to change much to win a game. It you feel like you have to do so much more, you might be in a tough spot. But we knew that we were very close, there were a couple things, the puck might need to bounce our way a little bit more and try to solve [Braden] Holtby and we did. It starts with confidence and that you can do it and take one game at a time and we did a great job.”
Now onto Tampa and the Rangers third Easter Conference Finals in four years. With every game in this postseason settled by just one goal, it’s a sure bet the Rangers will make this series tight and probably will squeak it out in the end like they did this series.
It’s going to be hockey like it oughta be.