Check out my guest post on the Rangers Report blog, which by the way is the best source for Rangers analysis and fan-banter.
by Jeff Yerger
Can you feel it – that buzz in the air? For the first time in 20 years, the air smells fresher, the sky seems bluer, and the sun feels warmer, because the New York Rangers are finally back in the Stanley Cup Final. Is this real life? How did we get here? It’s been such an incredible journey, and as Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault put it, if you told me back in October… hell, even four weeks ago… that the Rangers would be the hottest team in hockey playing for the franchise’s 5th Stanley Cup in June, I’d ask what you were smoking.
The elation we die-hard Ranger fans are feeling right now is hard to explain to someone who isn’t a huge sports fan. You might get some weird looks, a scoff, a “pssh, whatever”, or a “you can’t get a tattoo of Henrik Lundqvist THERE!” from people, but we know this is a special time and it’s truly a special feeling. The Rangers are in the Stanley Cup Final… I mean, just typing those words made me giddy. There is a buzz about the city and the tri-state area that’s usually reserved for the New York Giants every four years. You can’t walk five feet without talking about the Rangers or seeing someone wearing Rangers apparel. Just the other day, on the way into the city, my friend and I struck up a conversation with this random dude only because he was wearing a Brian Leetch shirt. We spent nearly 40 minutes talking about the Rangers and their magical playoff run. For those 40 minutes, the three of us were the bestest of friends!
Being a Rangers fan is like that. Once you discover that a person is a Rangers fan, they immediately become family. It’s cool, no worries, just as long as you know who Mark Messier is. Wait, you don’t? I’ll give you a minute to do a quick Google search. It’s okay, I’ll wait. [whistles and looks around aimlessly] … [checks watch] … [Googles Mark Messier anyway, gets lost for an hour watching Messier highlights on YouTube] … woah, sorry about that, where was I?
Yes, it’s a great time to be a Ranger fan, and if you don’t want to miss out on the Blueshirt Mania, there’s plenty of room aboard the bandwagon! But before you hop along, you’re going to have to know a few things first. So, I’ve decided to make the definitive Bandwagon Guide to the 2013-14 New York Rangers. Let’s get you up to speed…
At the end of the lockout-shortened 2013 season, the New York Rangers were in a bit of turmoil. They didn’t quite capitalize on the 2011-12 team’s success, and after losing to the Boston Bruins in 5 games in the second round, the Rangers management fired then-coach John Tortorella, and replaced him with former Vancouver Canucks coach Alain Vigneault. With this transaction, the Rangers went from a shot-blocking, defensive machine to an offensive and speed-minded philosophy. I’d like to tell you that it all clicked right away, I’d also like to tell you we were one of the top teams in the East this year, but alas, it didn’t quite go that way. The Rangers struggled adapting to the new system, which in hindsight, is understandable. Patience was needed, but Ranger fans are anything but patient. It was a struggle for this team, but around December and early January, things started to click. The Power Play finally looked like a Power Play, goaltender Henrik Lundqvist (more on him later) started playing like himself again, and suddenly, the Rangers looked like a contender. Well, at least a playoff contender. In March, the Rangers made a trade deadline deal to secure their status as a playoff contender, trading beloved captain Ryan Callahan to the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for superstar veteran forward Martin St. Louis, who, along with center Brad Richards, won a cup in 2004 with the Bolts. The hope was, with him and Richards reunited, their chemistry from 2004 would reignite.
The Rangers opened the playoffs playing against hated rivals the Philadelphia Flyers. It was a rough series, but the Rangers prevailed in seven (and it also produced one of the greatest hockey gifs of all time). In the Second Round, the Rangers were pitted against Stanley Cup (and Pierre McGuire’s) favorites the Pittsburgh Penguins. After winning the first game by scoring twice in overtime, the Rangers suddenly found themselves down in the series 3 – 1, after a pitiful game 4 in which the Rangers were booed by their own fans (we’re not always that mean, trust me… it’s tough love). Following that dreadful performance, the next day news came out that the mother of Martin St. Louis passed away unexpectedly of a heart attack. Despite a heavy grieving heart, St. Louis decided to join his Rangers team in Pittsburgh, and from there, the team bonded out of tragedy. St. Louis provided an emotional lift the Rangers desperately needed, and scored a huge goal in Game 6 at the Garden with his family present. The Rangers came back to defeat the Pittsburgh Penguins and move on to play the Montreal Canadiens in the third round of the playoffs.
Following an emotional second round victory, the New York Rangers came out swinging in Montreal for Game 1, scoring 7 goals in an arena that has plagued the team for years. They won the first two games handily in Montreal, and in Game 4, St. Louis scored a magnificent game winner in overtime to put them up 3 – 1 in the series. Finally, in game 6 at a manic Madison Square Garden, Henrik Lundqvist stonewalled the Canadiens in a 1 – 0 shutout, securing the Rangers place in the Final. It’s truly been a hell of a run, and the previous paragraphs don’t even come close to conveying the waves of emotion we Ranger fans have been enduring these past couple weeks. It’s been fun, but there’s still a story yet to be written.
Here’s some Rangers-related music you need on your iPod:
The New York Rangers Goal Song
The New York Rangers Victory Song
The 2013-14 Rangers Locker Room Victory Song (for some reason…)
Here are some players you need to know:
Ryan McDonagh – #27 – Defenseman
Nickname: Mack Truck
The lowdown: Since joining the Rangers in 2011 after we practically stole him from the Montreal Canadiens, Ryan McDonagh has become an absolute monster of a defenseman. Not only is the kid smart as hell defensively, but he can really contribute offensively (he has 2 goals and 10 assist thus far in the playoffs). Mack Truck is going to be a true star in this league. Look for him to continue to improve in the final round.
Mats Zuccarello – #36 – Left Wing
The lowdown: When he isn’t journeying across Middle-earth, Mats Zuccarello – a.k.a. the little Italian kid from Norway – is racking up points and creating plays like no other player on the ice. It’s incredible how well he can see a play develop. Perhaps the view at 5’7” is pretty good. The bite-sized forward will beat you with his speed and certainly isn’t afraid to fight the big boys.
Rick Nash – #61 – Left Wing
The lowdown: Despite being arguably the Rangers’ most skilled forward, Rick Nash hasn’t exactly lived up to the lofty expectations set by Ranger fans. Nevertheless, when Nash plays in the dirty areas of the ice and gets to the net as much as possible, he is an absolute force.
Derek Stepan – #21 – Center
Nickname: Steps or D-Step
The lowdown: If you watched the last few Rangers/Habs games, you might be wondering who that bionic man wearing that goofy obnoxious helmet was. Well, it was Derek Stepan, and here’s what happened: in the previous series against the Canadiens, his jaw was broken in Game 3 by former teammate and friend Brandon Prust after he blindsided Stepan with a vicious high hit. Stepan stayed in that game, despite his jaw being broken (though he didn’t know it at the time). He then had jaw surgery, missed only one game (!), and despite barely being able to talk and drink food from a straw, Stepan came back for Game 5 to score two goals. Hockey players, amirite?
Chris Kreider – #20 – Left Wing
Nickname: THE Kreider
The lowdown: Here’s another young budding star from the New York Rangers. Chris Kreider has 10 points in these playoffs (4G, 6A), but the kid has done a lot more than that. For a man his size (6’3”, 226lbs), he should NOT be allowed to be as fast as he is. And boy, is he fast, which is part of the reason the Rangers have been so successful in the post-season. Teams can’t seem to adjust to the Rangers speed, thanks to players like Kreider, Carl Hagelin, and Derek Brassard.
Brad Richards – #19 – Center
Nickname: Broadway Brad
The lowdown: Brad Richards has become the vocal veteran leader every good team needs. He leads both on the ice and off, and despite an inevitable buyout looming this summer that should send him packing and free up cap space for the Rangers, Richards is having quite a productive post-season run (5G, 6A). And to think it was only a year ago he was benched by Torts in the playoffs due to lack of production.
Martin St. Louis – #26 – Right Wing
The lowdown: Along with Richards, St. Louis has become another veteran presence in the locker room. As mentioned above, he has persevered through some pretty tough times this post season due to his mother’s passing. Yet, despite his slow adjustment to New York and his recent personal troubles, St. Louis has been arguably one of the best players this team has to offer, and he has given this Rangers team a huge emotional lift.
Dominic Moore – #28 – Center
The lowdown: If you should root for anybody this June, root for Dominic Moore. In 2012, Dominic Moore, while playing for the San Jose Sharks, left the team during a playoff run to be with his wife Katie, who had just been diagnosed with a rare form of liver cancer, a disease that ultimately ended her life in January of 2013 (you can view their story in an emotional video here). Moore did not play at all last season. Last summer, he re-signed with the Rangers (the team that originally drafted him in 2000). Today, Dominic Moore plays in the memory of his wife Katie, and along with Brian Boyle and Derek Dorsett , he is an essential part of the Rangers’ strong fourth line. On Thursday, in true poetic fashion, Moore scored the game-winning goal to send the New York Rangers to their first Stanley Cup Final in 20 years.
Henrik Lundqvist – #30 – Goaltender
Nickname: The King
The lowdown: Where do I even begin? Henrik Lundqvist, the biggest and best-dressed athlete in New York, has been the foundation of the New York Rangers for nearly 10 years. Did I mention he is also incredibly good-looking? Since first stepping on the ice for the Rangers back in 2005, Lundqvist has quickly become one of the world’s elite goaltenders. When Lundqvist is on his game (which is A LOT these days), he’s virtually impenetrable and he is on a whole other level than anyone else. Just take a look at his 2013-14 playoff stats: 12 wins (1st in the NHL), .928 Save Percentage (1st in the NHL), 2.03 Goals Against Average (2nd in the NHL), and a shutout (where he made this ridiculous save) to send his team to the Stanley Cup Final to boot. The only thing missing from his resume is a Stanley Cup.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year! There’s snow on the ground, the air is chilly, and some exciting hockey is ready to be played. Why yes it’s… [checks calendar] mid-April, and the NHL Playoffs are finally here!
Even for the first round, there are some really exciting match ups going on: San Jose vs. LA, Boston vs. Wings, and Rangers vs. Flyers. There are also some interesting questions waiting to be answered, like: Will this finally be the year the Blues hoist the Cup? Will this finally be there year San Jose doesn’t choke (spoiler alert: it won’t)? Will Columbus win a playoff game for the first time in franchise history? Who will have the best playoff beard? Will Canada win a Gold Medal AND a Stanley Cup all in the same year (those friendly bastards will be relentless if Montreal wins)? And… can anybody beat Boston?
Like Vince Gilligan, the NHL Playoffs always provide the answers, but it’s more fun to predict the answers yourself isn’t it? Below are my picks for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, coming from a biased (but reasonable) Rangers fan:
Ducks over Dallas in six
LA over San Jose in six
Avalanche over Wild in five
Chicago over Blues in seven
Boston over Wings in five
Montreal over Tampa in six
Penguins over Columbus in seven
Rangers over Flyers in seven
LA over Ducks in seven
Chicago over Avs in six
Boston over Montreal in six
Rangers over Pittsburgh in six
LA over Chicago in seven
Boston over Rangers in seven
Stanley Cup Final
Boston over LA in six
Notes from the Rangers fan in me:
I think the Rangers are actually in a good position for a long playoff run. Obviously, with Henrik Lundqvist in net, they’ll have an advantage over anyone they play. Despite a really poor start to the season, the King has been lights out since January, and he looks more than ready for the playoffs. This year’s breakout line of Zuccarello-Pouliot-Brassard, as well as the emergence of a strong/reliable fourth line, will be the difference makers this year. The Rangers will also need to cash in on the Power Play more often than not, as that’s always been their Achilles Heel in the Spring. And if the Rangers’ big name forwards Rick Nash and Marty St. Louis actually play like the stars they are, New York’s chances are pretty good. While I believe it’s Boston’s Cup to lose this year, this New York Rangers team can beat anyone in the East, as long as they use their speed and play smart defense.
by Jeff Yerger
Last night, the New York Rangers defeated the Detroit Red Wings 1-0 in what was a fierce goaltending dual. Henrik Lundqvist and Jimmy Howard played out of their minds, as they saw 86 shots(!) total. 86 shots?! Do you realize how ridiculous a total that is? Lil Jon could not even fathom that many shots. And these weren’t just logo tappers either. Both teams came at their opponents with good, creative opportunities while Howard and Lundqvist made it look easy. Rangers top scoring hobbit forward Mats Zuccarello scored the only goal of the game on a fluke failed pass. Howard played it right, unfortunately for him, the puck took a bounce right over his right pad.
As good as Howard and Lundqvist were at Madison Square Garden last night, the biggest save of the night didn’t happen in New York. Instead, we turn to Philadephia (because, you know, that’s where you go for good goaltending…) where the Flyers battled the Nashville Predators. The Predators have had their fair share of goaltending woes this season, mostly due to the extended absence of Pekka Rinne, but last night the hockey gods smiled upon them as backup Carter Hutton made the greatest save of the year. Check it out below; it’s absolutely unbelievable. No, seriously, like, I don’t believe it actually happened. I mean, come on, look where Hutton is in relation to where the puck is when Flyers forward Michael Raffl shoots. Fucking Stretch Armstrong wouldn’t even be able to make that save! Hutton should probably just retire now, as it’s all downhill from here. Nashville ended up winning the game in a shootout, so I guess you can say Hutton single-(left)handedly stole a point from the Flyers.
Hey, Michael Raffl: how pissed?
The NHL season is a quarter of the way over, and after a weird, couple of months, we probably know less about our favorite teams than we thought we did back in September. Aside from the Boston Bruins and the Chicago Blackhawks being their usual selves, everything else just doesn’t seem right. Who’d have thought the Colorado Avalanche would have more points than crazy Patrick Roy outbursts at this point in the season? Who could’ve seen Jaromir Jagr, at age 41, leading his team in scoring with 18 points while on the verge of breaking some records? What about the rise and fall of the New York Islanders, a promising young team in October to a mediocre one in November? On the flip side, you now have a Flyers team who is all of a sudden looking like a contender again. Ah, sports, am I right? You love it, you hate it, you want to throw a rabid chainsaw-wielding monkey at it, but at the end of the day, you love it. Another thing you gotta love about sports is how in any given season, there’s always a chance for new stars to shine, and so far in this young NHL season, a few unfamiliar names in goal have been shining the brightest.
Ben Bishop, Tampa Bay Lightning
Former Ottawa Senator Ben Bishop has been a Godsend for the Tampa Bay Lightning this year. Once the understudy to Craig Anderson in Ottawa, Bishop was picked up by the Bolts late last year and has been giving them the solid goaltending the team needed ever since. With Stamkos recently placed on the IR, Bishop might be seeing more pucks, but that shouldn’t be a problem thanks to his 13 – 3 – 1 record, 2.20 goals-against average, and .926 save percentage.
Ben Scrivens, LA Kings
Jonathan Quick, the Stanley Cup-winning goaltender for the LA Kings, was placed on the IR after suffering a groin muscle injury on November 12. Although his numbers up to that point were average at best, Quick was/is still a talented goaltender who is arguably the backbone of that team, especially during their Cup run in 2012. This past summer, the Kings ceded former backup Jonathan Bernier to the Toronto Maple Leafs, and they received back up Ben Scrivens in return, which was a good (albeit strange given their previous goaltender’s performance last season) move for the Leafs but not so much for the Kings. Up to that point, Scrivens had only started 32 games total over two seasons, with a record of 11 – 14 – 2. Since filling in for Quick Scrivens has been sharp, shutting out the Devils and the Rangers back-to-back at the end of an east coast road trip, and owning a .927 save percentage and 1.37 goals-against average for the season. The LA Kings in turn haven’t missed a beat and are now 4 – 0 – 2 with Scrivens between the pipes.
Marek Mazanec, Nashville Predators
The Nashville Predators were certainly dealt a rough hand after learning on October 22nd that their star goaltender Pekka Rinne was diagnosed with an infection in his hip. As of today, the Predators still don’t know when he will be back, as Rinne is reportedly still on crutches. The team first tried to fill the Rinne-shaped hole with Carter Hutton, but he wasn’t able to step up, sporting a 3.39 GAA. So, the team gave the rookie Marek Mazanec from Czechoslovakia a go, and so far, he seems to be the calming medicine the Preds needed. He’s been pretty solid so far: 3 – 1 in his last four starts, and he hasn’t allowed more than two goals in either of them. Manzanec now has a 2.32 GAA with a .929 save percentage. Perhaps the kid is onto something.
Cam Talbot, New York Rangers
Let’s face it: the New York Rangers were an awful hockey team at the beginning of the year. Their offensive woes continued over from last season, a normal solid defense was porous and error-prone, and even King Henrik himself was ordinary at best. While the Rangers certainly had legitimate excuses (i.e. new coach, new system, and a long-ass road trip against the NHL’s top teams in the west to begin the season), something just wasn’t right. Lundqvist had to sit out a few games with an undisclosed injury, and during that time, rookie Cam Talbot had to keep the king’s throne warm. During his first 6 starts in the NHL, the “Goal-buster” Talbot has been everything the Rangers could ask for (and more): 5 – 1 with a 1.32 goals-against average and .949 SV%. Not only that, but he was the first Rangers goaltender to shutout the Canadiens in Montreal since Ed Giacomin in February of 1967. Oh, and he recorded another shutout in his next start in Nashville on Saturday. Keep Cam and Talbot On, New York.
by Jeff Yerger
Yes! Ilya Bryzgalov a.k.a. Mr. Universe is (deservedly) back in the NHL, after signing with the Edmonton Oilers on Friday. Honestly, I am elated!
The dude is one of the most entertaining goaltenders in the NHL, and by entertaining, I mean absolutely hilarious. The stuff that comes out of this guy’s mouth is gold, Jerry, gold! Now that he has escaped the “Goalie Graveyard” in Philadelphia, he now has a perfect opportunity for redemption, like Andy Dufresne with his arms wide open having just escaped Shawshank Prison. It’s easy to forget how good of a goaltender he is, and I truly think he can help make Edmonton a playoff contender once again. Good move by them!
As we await Mr. Universe’s 2013-2014 NHL debut, here are some Bryzgalov highlights:
We all like to think we can fix things, from leaky faucets to broken windows to… professional sports teams. In this feature, we take something that is clearly broken and attempt to make it right again.
by Jeff Yerger
Last night, as I watched my New York Rangers take on the Columbus Blue Jackets (which is essentially the Rangers of New York versus the Rangers of Ohio), I couldn’t help but feel bad for the Blue Jackets. This is a team that’s been around since 1997, and have still never won a playoff game (they have made the playoffs only once). Columbus has always been the island of misfit toys, inhabited by players who were once shining stars in cities like New York and Philadelphia but are now doomed to lose for the rest of eternity to those very teams that once loved them so.
It’s a cruel cruel world, yes, but it doesn’t have to be. The Blue Jackets do have a solid lineup, they just need to hit the refresh button. 16 years is long enough for mediocrity. Something has to change, and we here at the Sunday Barrel believe we have a solution.
1. Change the name.
“The Blue Jackets” is an terrible name for a hockey team, and in recent years, the team’s jerseys don’t even show their old Blue Jacket logo, instead opting for the Ohio State flag swooshing around a star. BORING! Get rid of it! It’s tacky, uninspiring, played-out, and I hate it.
Here’s what you do… ready for this?… change the franchise’s name to… the Columbus Buckeyes.
Yes, you read that right: the Buckeyes. At first, I was thinking maybe the “Redshirts” would be cool (a la the Rangers’ “Blueshirts” alter ego) but then I realized, if the former Blue Jackets continue to suck, it’d be too easy to insert a “red-shirted college freshman athlete” joke here. So, the Buckeyes it is!
2. Okaaay… why “the Buckeyes”?
I think with “Buckeyes” comes tradition and culture. Ohio is the “Buckeye State,” and even though the state’s best sports team is also named the Buckeyes, I don’t see why the Blue Jackets can’t use the name too. I mean, there are multiple sports teams named the Jets or, say, the Rangers.
3. Eh, I don’t know man. The “Buckeyes” seems kinda lame. How can you be intimidated by a Christmas cookie?
Okay, yes, buckeye balls are delicious, but that doesn’t mean the name “Buckeyes” is ill-fitting for a hockey team. I mean, does the name “Canadiens” intimidate you? If you didn’t know any better, you’d think the Montreal Canadiens were a team of polite Mounties.
4. Change the logo and jerseys.
Make the logo classy and traditional. The busy, 90’s style logo isn’t working. If you need inspiration, look to any of the original six teams. It’s a fact: traditional is better. Switching sports for a second here, I believe that if the Philadelphia Eagles went back to wearing the simple kelly-green jersey, they’d be a better team [crosses fingers and prays to Michael Strahan that they never do].I think the same could be said for the Blue Jackets; maybe make the jerseys primary color red, with blue stripes (a la the Red Wings or Carolina, only instead of white, use blue). Just, whatever you do Columbus, do NOT hire the same guy who came up with these things.
5. The less cheesy, the better.
Yes! I cannot reiterate this enough. No more mascots running up and down the aisles, and certainly no cheerleaders allowed. Seriously, how old are you Columbus? Leave the mascots to the high school football teams. It’s just embarrassing when a professional sports team has a mascot dancing around to “Cotton Eyed Joe” and high-fiving drunk 50-year-olds all night (sorry, Mr. Met). It’s unnecessary and it gives a bad vibe.
Next, get rid of the stupid AC/DC “rock and roll salute you” cannon after Columbus scores a goal. It’s too busy and frankly, too cliche. Either create an original goal song or stick with “The Whip“. Better yet, play “Get Lucky” after every goal, because apparently that’s what it takes to win these days in Columbus.
6. Ok, what else? A name change and new goal song doesn’t exactly guarantee a trip to the Stanley Cup Final.
This is true. Personnel changes need to be made, which is why I’d bring in recently unemployed coach Peter Laviolette. The guy is a great coach who can bring some grit and organization to a team in desperate need of it (I wonder why the Flyers haven’t hired him… oh wait…). He has a proven winning track record, bringing a Stanley Cup to Carolina back in 2006 and making it to the Final with Philadelphia in 2010.
I feel the Jackets really do have a good, talented team on their hands. Unfortunately, they’re the dog who finally caught the car and now has no idea what to do with it. Marian Gaborik, their centerpiece in a blockbuster trade last season, is a proven 40+ goal scorer. He’s a stud, and teams would kill to have him, Sergei Bobrovsky is Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender who can steal games from you. On top of that, you have role-playing guys like Jack Johnson, Brandon Dubinsky, and Artem Anisimov who can score, kill penalties, and can provide a good core to build a team around. Hell, it’s easy to forget Columbus acquired freakin’ Nathan Horton from the Bruins this past summer, who’s out on injured reserve for now but should play well upon return. If they add a few upgrades on defense and some more grit, it wouldn’t surprise me if they ended up making a serious run for the playoffs come March and April. They have the goods, they just need some direction and a big fat breath of fresh air.