Click here to read my column, which was kind of stymied by deadline, on the Rangers reaching the Cup final.
1) “Alain,” the question began, “if somebody told you in October you’d be playing in the Stanley Cup final in June, what would you say?” Vigneault thought back to October, the bad training camp, the worthless trip to Banff and ridiculous preseason, then the 2-6 start to the season-0pening nine-game road trip and he smiled. “In October?” he said. “I would probably have asked them what they were smoking.”
2) I might take it a step further. What would you be smoking if you told me or him or anybody that the Rangers would still be standing after Game 4 against Pittsburgh? I thought all along that this was a good team. I said going into the playoffs that its only hope was to get in, hope Marc-Andre Fleury has a meltdown and somebody else beats Boston. But I still thought that during the Philly series, the survivor was playing for the right to play maybe five more games.
3) Frankly, I didn’t think this team had this kind of onions. And let’s not kid ourselves, this hasn’t been easy or smooth. When the Rangers have hiccuped they have coughed up hairballs, just been dead awful. But when they’ve needed to win? Big as the building. Bigger.
4) That game last night, that huge game, that massive hurdle, was one of the best games they played all year. Probably their best of these playoffs. They gave Montreal nothing. Their calling card for success all year, especially since December, has been defense, depth and goaltending. And, boy oh boy, did they run down that checklist in Game 6 of the ECF, a textbook 1-0 win during which there was very little pressure from the Habs’ offense, and virtually none once the Rangers got the lead.
5) The bottom line in this series was that when the Rangers played their game, Montreal had no shot. If they played the way they played in Game 6, they could have won four in a row. Or seven in a row. Or pick any number in a row. They didn’t play that way for a lot of the series. They dominated Game 1. They withstood Game 2 behind Henrik Lundqvist. They were probably the better team by a little, but lost Game 3 on a hop in OT. They were probably a little worse in Game 4 and won in OT on a gigantic breakdown and a great shot by Martin St. Louis. They were God-awful in Game 5. BTW, I don’t believe Carey Price would have changed the outcome in any one of those games.
6) So now what? I always wondered what this place would be like if this ever happened. But I thought that, though they were improving as an organization, that ship for the time being sailed in 2012. Can they beat Los Angeles or Chicago? Can they win four more? Why the hell not? They’re probably going to have to defend like that throughout, and bring that kind of will. They’re probably going to need more from Rick Nash and more from St. Louis because they will be out-skilled. And if they have games like 3, 4 and 5 in this series, they won’t beat either team. But why the hell not?
7) Been putting that fourth line on a pedestal since before the Yankee Stadium games, before Derek Dorsett’s injury and Daniel Carcillo’s arrival. Man, is it ever a force. That late second-period shift was going to be a great one even if they didn’t score. But Dorsett flew in on the forecheck. Brian Boyle and Dominic Moore were relentless down low. And Ryan McDonagh (McMonster in this series) saw a chance to get in on the play and made it happen. McMonster to Boyle to Moore, who slid into a scoring position (paying attention, Rick Nash?) and beat the kid goalie. Just a fabulous shift.
8) And of all the people I felt for after the game, it was Dominic Moore and his story, losing his wife in January of ‘13 and coming home to the Rangers after sitting out the short season. And it was for Martin St. Louis, who must have bottomed out when he got off that plane in Pittsburgh, having been booed the night before, and learning about his mom. Two great stories. And another is Derek Stepan, who broke his jaw in Game 3, had surgery the next day, missed a game for the first time in his career, and came back with that mask on. He had words with Brandon Prust on the ice in Game 6, and in the handshake line the two had a long hug and a chat. Stepan said some interesting things afterward. Click here for some of it, or scroll down to the audio below.
9) Henrik Lundqvist. Yeah, we haven’t gotten to the guy who broke Mike Richter’s team record for career playoff wins and tied Richter’s record for shutouts (with, what, seven years left), who wasn’t terribly busy, but was pretty darn great anyway, after that bummer of a Game 5 in which he was yanked in Montreal (see his transcript in the post-game notes below, or listen to his audio). How ‘bout that Hasek-like save on Thomas Vanek shot that hit Dan Girardi’s stick and floated toward the crossbar, Lundqvist dropping his stick and making a windmill save with his blocker? My God. And how cool was he in the final minute, 6-on-4, soccer-heading a shot up into the netting for a stoppage? Another thing he did really well was, whenever the Rangers needed a breather, he caught and/or smothered the puck. And has anybody else noticed that his glove hand, by and large, has been much better in these playoffs? Best player on the team, most important, and he came through big-time.
10) I thought early on, though the Rangers were off to a fast start, there were a couple of shifts when they fought bouncing pucks. I thought St. Louis was bailed out a couple of times by Brad Richards and Carl Hagelin, for example. But as the game went on, St. Louis was terrific. The Derick Brassard line, with Mats Zuccarello and Benoit Pouliot had its best game of the series. So did Stepan’s line, with Nash and Chris Kreider, who had a superb game. And of course, Moore’s line. Shift after strong, smart shift, starting with that kill of Richards’ penalty to open the third up 1-0.
11) So Prust, who was serenaded by the Garden faithful, gets a penalty for slashing Anton Straman’s legs, but doesn’t get one for a very late, deliberate head shot that breaks Stepan’s jaw? New game, new rulebook. But by and large, I thought the officials in Game 6 let the boys play a bit and called what needed to be called. They didn’t go for it when Brian Gionta was busy embellishing as he ran into Lundqvist and took a goalie interference penalty. They were fooled once by the Faker, Tomas Plekanec, who after this series should be ashamed of himself. Like a lot of Canadiens. Vanek couldn’t even get on the ice on the 6-on-4 at the end. Says a lot about his series.
12) I thought Raphael Diaz handled himself very well jumping in for John Moore, on a pair with a guy who had a tremendous series, Kevin Klein. And guess what? Diaz will play Game 1 of the final, which means, if the Rangers win it, the ex-Hab gets his name engraved on Stanley.
13) Gotta give it up to AV again, for getting his guys’ focus back, getting the lost discipline back, telling them to just play the way they play and they’ll be fine. They did and they were. Whatever happens over the next two weeks, he’s done one heck of a job. He really has.
14) Daily Nash-O-Meter. Hey, he came out of the gate like it was Columbus. Engaged early. Very, very good defensively and on the PK. Missed the net 3-on-1 Ugh. Came out of the series with three goals. Not bad. They are going to need him, obviously. And they’re going to need him to play the way Marian Gaborik is playing for LA, and going to the net like Gaborik and Dominic Moore.
15) How awesome was it to see Alex Kovalev in ‘94 championship hat and, when the camera was on him, he unzipped his jacket and had on a ‘94 championship T-shirt. My column led with that because Kovalev was the last ‘94 Ranger to retire, last year at 39, after 14 games with Florida. That’s how long it’s been. Kovalev was a baby in ‘94.
16) Talking to a lot of people from other teams throughout the league. Every one of them was rooting for the Rangers. … all of them hate the way the Habs conducted themselves in these playoffs, and most think Michel Therrien is obnoxious. I couldn’t agree more. That team and its personality being booted and this team and its personality moving on are the best thing that could have happened for the game. And NY vs. LA or Chi isn’t going to hurt the ratings, either.
My Three Rangers Stars:
1. Dominic Moore.
2. Henrik Lundqvist.
3. Brian Boyle.
Kenny Albert’s Three Rangers Stars:
1. Dominic Moore.
2. Henrik Lundqvist.
3. Ryan McDonagh.
Josh Thomson, 26’s Three Rangers Stars:
1. Henrik Lundqvist.
2. Ryan McDonagh.
3. Dominic Moore.
Your poll vote for Three Rangers Stars:
1. tie, Henrik Lundqvist and Dominic Moore.
2. Ryan McDonagh.
3. Brian Boyle.
Photos by Getty Images.