It has been a long time since the New York Rangers played this well. It was 1993-94, to be exact and we all know how that season ended – with a Stanley Cup parade straight down Broadway. The Rangers have played their best hockey of the season recently and have managed to improve to 27-9-4 for a league-leading 58 points, which is the best start since Messier and the gang erased the franchise’s Stanley Cup drought almost 18 years ago.
While the Winter Classic was a big distraction, with all the hype and HBO cameras, perhaps some of the team’s recent success can be attributed to the fifth annual event that took place at Citizens Bank Park on Jan 2. Just 10 days later, the Rangers defeated the Phoenix Coyotes 2-1 in a thrilling game that came down to a shootout. The win was the blueshirts’ fifth straight. In fact, the Rangers have won 10 of their last 11 games, with the only loss a 4-1 shellacking by the Washington Capitals.
But it might be that cold, flurry-filled night that New York looks back on as a defining moment of their season and right now it has certainly given the Rangers plenty of momentum as the team looks to stay hot before the All-Star break in less than three weeks. The Rangers were down 2-0 to their longtime division rivals, the Philadelphia Flyers, before scoring three unanswered goals – two coming from the unexpected stick of Mike Rupp – and winning it in dramatic fashion with Henrik Lundqvist making a big save on a Danny Briere penalty shot with just 16 seconds left in the contest. Lundqvist held the high scoring Flyers to just two goals, something he has managed to do to opponents an impressive 21 times this season.
Since that point, New York has proven that it deserves to remain atop the not only the Atlantic Division but the Eastern Conference and it’s the latest the team has done so since the 1995-96 season. The Rangers’ last three wins have come against Florida, Pittsburgh and Phoenix – all teams who have legitimate shots of making the playoffs this season. Two of those wins came at home, where the Rangers have excelled this season with a record of 13-3-2 at Madison Square Garden. With numbers like that, a home ice advantage for the blueshirts could be quite important come the spring but to do so the team must continue to play well.
But it is too early to worry about the postseason. Right now the Rangers hope to just continue to play at the same level they have all season. The glitz and glamour of the classic is behind them and the intruding cameras are gone, now the team has nothing to do to keep the focus on them except win.
Photo credit – AP