NEW YORK, NY - MAY 29: Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers celebrates with his teammates after defeating the Montreal Canadiens in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Final in the 2014 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden on May 29, 2014 in New York City. The New York Rangers defeated the Montreal Canadiens 1 to 0. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)NEW YORK, NY - MAY 29: Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers celebrates with his teammates after defeating the Montreal Canadiens in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Final in the 2014 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden on May 29, 2014 in New York City. The New York Rangers defeated the Montreal Canadiens 1 to 0. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
WE OWN A PIECE OF THIS HOCKEY HISTORY
The last time the New York Rangers reached the Stanley Cup Final their only connection to us was their head to head competition with the Boston Bruins as the team most hated by Hartford hockey fans. 20 years later the Rangers are headed back to the final and this time they have our fingerprints all over them.
Just one game from elimination four games into round two of this season’s playoffs, after being stretched to the limit in round one, the Rangers discovered their chemistry and rolled out five straight wins on the way to bringing the Eastern Conference final to Madison Square Garden for game three with a two to nothing lead over the Montreal Canadiens. It was during that five game stretch that an unexpected tragedy brought the Rangers together.
The mother of forward Martin St. Louis passed away unexpectedly. He rushed home to Quebec to be with his family, but returned to play the next night. Between those first two games in Montreal the entire team attended the funeral. It was a galvanizing moment for the Rangers. Until then St. Louis’ role with this team was questionable, even dubious. He came to New York in one of the most stunning trades of the season, a swap of captains with the Tampa Bay Lightning, the very popular Ryan Callahan going the other way. The pressure on St. Louis was evident from the day of his arrival as he felt the weight of the Rangers expecations.
Callahan was a home grown product, one of those Hartford fingerprints now on the Prince of Wales Trophy, a former Hartford Wolf Pack star. The potential for this trade going very wrong, as the Rangers played the remainder of the season without a designated captain, was great. The rally around St. Louis included a win in Pittsburgh in a seventh game few expected would ever be played.
Other players developed under Ken Gernander in Hartford became key components for this Ranger team. Don’t underestimate the contribution of Cam Talbot in game five of the Eastern Final, taking the bullets in a blowout in Montreal to save Henrik Lundquist from further embarrassment, giving Lundquist the peace of mind to settle in for a game six shutout. The one goal he protected through a tense third period at Madison Square came from another former Wolf Pack star, Dominic Moore, who took a brilliant feed from Bryan Boyle with just under two minutes left in the second period and beat Dustin Tokarski to an open glove side. It fell on the defense to make it stand up. Led by former Wolf Pack star Dan Girardi they held the Habs to five shots in their final playoff period. Chris Kreider, Matts Zucarello, Ryan McDonagh, all familiar to Hartford hockey fans, became catalysts of the magic building at 33rd Street and 7th Avenue.
They also serve who sit and wait. While the Rangers built momentum and turned away all adversity, 40 miles from Manhattan a second squad was hard at work. So the players on the playoff roster could focus on the mission at hand the rest of the roster players were moved to the Rangers practice facility, keeping themselves at peak readiness under the watchful eye of Ken Gernander, the Wolf Pack coach who commuted downstate daily to give the Rangers ready bodies whenever they were needed, many of them players he tutored through his seventh season as the Wolf Pack’s head coach. If the Rangers finish the task this season the road to this Stanley Cup will have come through our back yard.
20 years, and a lot of hockey history later, this is one Stanley Cup Final we can take personal pride in. We were eyewitnesses, watching it develop in our city, in our building. A Stanley Cup memento would look very nice indeed on Ken Gernander’s ring finger.
With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.