There are seasons in sports where everything falls into place and everything goes right. For New York, 1969-70 was just such a season.
It started with the Jets winning the Super Bowl in a monumental upset over the Baltimore Colts. Then came the Mets, perennial doormats, turning the baseball world upside down by winning the World Series. The Knicks were well on their way to an NBA championship the following spring.
And then, there were the Rangers.
The Blueshirts were in first place for 3½ months, tearing up the NHL. Then injuries caught up with them, and they tumbled down in the standings. By the end of the season, they found themselves in a life and death struggle with the Montreal Canadiens for fourth place in their division and a spot in the playoffs.
That’s when a little magic occurred on the final day of the season, a day of desperation, salvaged only by some innovative hockey by a team on the ropes. How bad was their situation? Perennially sold-out Madison Square Garden had empty seats all over the arena. Even the team’s brass stayed home, a snub general manager-coach Emile Francis never forgave.
The Rangers had lost in Detroit 6-2 on Saturday night, leaving their playoff chances hanging by a thread, bordering on hopeless. Francis was not about to surrender. “Let me tell you something,’’ he said in the somber post-game setting. “They did not knock us out of the playoffs, We’ve got a game tomorrow.’’
Indeed they did and it was one for the memory books.
This last regular season game would be like no other. The Rangers need a win against the Red Wings and needed to score at least five goals in the process to overtake the Canadiens. Then they would hope for the best with Montreal playing that night at Chicago.
A long shot at best but author Reg Lansberry captures it beautifully in his new book “9 Goals,’’ available at Amazon. Com. The title refers to the number of goals New York scored that day in an all-out attack that dismissed defense. Goalie Ed Giacomin often was pulled for an extra attacker. The Rangers needed to score often to give themselves a chance and that’s what they did in the most surreal game you could imagine, a game like no other played before or since in the NHL.
The nine goals were impressive but if Montreal managed a point against the Black Hawks, the Rangers would have been done. In fact, even if they lost, as long as the Habs scored five goals, they would overtake New York. To say the Rangers’ situation was precarious would be an understatement.
But the nine goals against Detroit had given New York a shot, albeit a slim one. It was better than no shot at all and so New York sat back and waited to see what would happen.
And in this season of sports magic in New York, the Rangers claimed their share. Trailing 5-2 in the third period, Montreal was in desperation mode. coach Claude Ruel pulled his goalie to force an all-out attack. The Canadiens needed three goals. Instead, the Black Hawks poured it on, assaulting the empty Montreal net for five goals to complete a 10-2 rout. The Canadiens finished the season with 244 goals, two fewer than New York.
The Rangers were in!
However, in a season when the Jets, Mets and Knicks won championships, the Rangers did not. After the dramatic ending to reach the playoffs, New York lost in the Stanley Cup quarterfinals against the Boston Bruins, ending a season to remember, one the Rangers would never forget.