Something magical has been happening at the Garden the last few months, and it has nothing to do with the underdog from Harvard who has taken the NBA by storm. Just seconds after Jeremy Lin sank his memorable game winning three at the buzzer against the Toronto Raptors on February 13, the New York Rangers celebrated a dominating 3-0 road win over the defending champion Boston Bruins. While the Knicks win prompted an explosion of Facebook statuses and tweets about Linsanity and #Linning, only a loyal few acknowledged the Blueshirts.
A new wave of fans emerged after the emergence of Jeremy Lin, and suddenly more people watched the Knicks than ever before. Now, with the NHL playoffs beginning on Wednesday, April 11, it’s time for all New York sports fans to give hockey and the Rangers a shot.
Hockey is a fast-paced and physical game. Unlike basketball, there are no five minute TV timeouts after every few shots. Hockey players don’t shy away from contact or complain to the refs for a foul or penalty after a physical play. They are a different breed of athletes, and much like football players, they play through pain and embrace the physical nature of their sport.
Few teams exemplify this better than the Rangers. Every player has bought into a defensive system that has the Rangers in the top three in blocked shots and hits and first in major fighting penalties, all while giving up the least amount of goals in the East.
Along with the heart they display in every scrappy performance, they have something else the Knicks don’t—the wins to back up a great story. The Rangers have had their best season since the 1993-1994 Stanley Cup campaign and currently have the most points in the Eastern Conference. If they hold off the surging Pittsburgh Penguins, they will have the number one seed in the playoffs.
The Rangers have also defeated their rivals and two of the best teams in hockey, the Philadelphia Flyers and Boston Bruins, in all eight matchups against them this season. Meanwhile, despite the big names that play for them, the Knicks have still struggled to beat many of the teams they should beat, and lack many signature wins while fighting for the eighth seed. Since the second game of the season, the Knicks are 0-6 against the Celtics, Heat, and Bulls.
Furthermore, the team has been nearing turmoil for the entire season. Tensions about underperforming star players, along with a seven game skid from March 4 to March 12 which left the team well below .500, led to the firing of head coach Mike D’Antoni on March 14. Even if they continue their hot streak under interim coach Mike Woodson, and finish as the eighth seed, they will have to play either the Heat or Bulls in the first round, likely leading to another disappointing first round exit.
If New York fans really cared about winning, rather than flashy superstars and underdog stories, they can’t ignore the Rangers. Upon visiting The Garden for the first time to watch the Rangers beat the rival New Jersey Devils two weeks ago, I saw the crowd booming with Ranger pride. However, in the halls of Stuyvesant, only a select handful of people cheer for the Rangers. In the streets of New York, there are probably more fans wearing Jeremy Lin jerseys than any Ranger jersey. This has to change.
The Rangers are top contenders for the Stanley Cup. Better yet, they are one of the youngest teams in the league with a core in place to be perennial contenders. They built their team the old fashioned way: through the draft, signing key free agents to complement the promising youngsters. They wisely avoided trading away their best prospects for Columbus Blue Jackets star Rick Nash at the trade deadline, choosing to keep their team chemistry intact. The Knicks could learn a thing or two from their brothers in blue. They decided to give up on two seasons to clear cap space to sign Amare Stoudemire and trade for Carmelo Anthony. The Knicks have been under .500 since the arrival of their “savior.”
The Rangers have their own superstars, who have actually helped fill up the win column. Marian Gaborik ranks in the top five in scoring in all of hockey with 38 goals, as of Wednesday, March 28. Free agent signing Brad Richards is tied for third with eight game-winning goals. And most importantly, Henrik Lundqvist, the likely Vezina Trophy recipient for best goalie, is tied for the NHL lead in shutouts and is third in save percentage and goals against average. He is the first goalie in history to win at least 30 games in each of his first seven seasons. Currently in the midst of the best season of his already excellent career, his consistency is unmatched by any Knick.
The only thing Lundqvist has left to prove is his playoff performance. And when he does, Facebook and Twitter should explode once again, just this time with statuses about #Lundsanity and the Rangers. Just maybe, some of those tweeters will begin to complement their loyal following of the perennially disappointing Knicks with loyalty towards the perennial contenders for the Stanley Cup—the New York Rangers.