Tomorrow night, the puck will drop at 7:oo PM to kick off the opening game of Senators-Rangers. It’s Game 1, at Madison Square Garden. When was the last time someone was able to say that previous sentence? You’d have to go 11 years back to 2001, when EITHER the Knicks or Rangers finished the season as a top-half seed, and hosted a Game 1 (sorry, the Liberty don’t count).
Obviously, the first thought that jumps out when seeing that stat is, “Wow, this building hasn’t seen many good teams recently.” And it’s true. Since 2001, the Knicks have made the playoffs only twice (as a 6th seed and 7th seed) and were swept both times. The Rangers have been a little better, making the playoffs 5 times in that span. But they’ve only escaped the first round twice, and both times were ousted in the subsequent round. So to recap, 19 combined seasons, 7 total playoff appearances…2 playoff series wins.
Which brings us to this year’s Rangers. 51 wins, 24 losses, 7 overtime losses — good for the #1 seed in the East, and second best in the entire league. It’s the first time they’ve finished first in the East since they won it all in ’94. They’re not your typical #1 seed, though — they finished with a +39 goal differential for the season, which was good for only 6th in the league. They don’t regularly blow teams out, and they can’t win by coasting on talent alone. Rather, they’re a well coached unit that has to go all out every shift, and then rely on arguably the league’s best goalie to cover up their flaws (most namely, lack of team speed and a weak power play).
Of course, with a top finish in the East comes a new world of pressure. Unlike previous years, a “good try” and early exit is not going to cut it. We’ll soon find out if this year’s memorable regular season will translate into playoff euphoria or disappointment. The real season starts tomorrow, at the Garden.