The number of teams and the format used makes anything possible in the Stanley Cup playoffs. The process begins with sixteen teams. A club must win four playoff series battles to hoist the cup in June. The number of teams involved and the fact you must win 16 playoff games makes it perhaps the most difficult championship to achieve in sports.
The perfect example that anything can happen took place last night when the New York Rangers shocked the Pittsburgh Penguins 2-1 in game seven of their series. The Rangers move on to the Eastern Conference finals while the poor Penguins must shake their heads for a second straight year with a monumental collapse once again the in playoffs. Last year, Pittsburgh lost four straight to the Boston Bruins in the Conference finals. This year it was three straight loses to the Rangers.
The Rangers have been the forgotten franchise in the original six teams in the National Hockey League. A reason for that is the club has struggled to achieve success in the fast-paced sport.
The New York Rangers have only won the Stanley Cup three times in 1928, 1940 and 1994. The first Cup for the men in Blue under coach Lester Patrick came in 1928. The Rangers bested the Montreal Maroons in a five-game series for the cup, winning the series three games to two. Frank Boucher scored the winning goal in the third period of the fifth and deciding game in the matchup.
Boucher was again a key to the second Rangers’ Stanley Cup twelve years later in 1940. This time he was not on the ice, but behind the bench as coach when the Rangers whipped Toronto Maple Leafs four games to two. Bryan Hextall tallied the winning goal in overtime to give the Rangers the title.
New York fans would have to suffer through 54 years before winning the Cup again in 1994. This time the Rangers, led by coach Mike Keenan, beat the Vancouver Canucks in the seventh and final game of the series played at Madison Square Garden. Mark Messier tallied the winning goal for the Rangers.
The three Stanley Cup titles offset a lot of missed opportunities in the finals for the Rangers. New York made it on six other occasions. They got beat each time, losing the crown in 1929, 1932, 1937, 1950, 1972 and 1979.
History has not been kind to the Rangers. Every time they seem to be on the brink of something great, the bridge collapses. When the Rangers faced Pittsburgh for game six of the recent series, history indicated that things would not go well. The Rangers down three games to two had not captured a sixth game in a series to force game seven in 75 years, dating back to 1939.
This New York club somehow never got the memo that they were suppose to lose. After winning game five in Pittsburgh, the Rangers came back to win game six at home and last night finished off the amazing feat with a 2-1 victory in game seven. New York won two of the final three games in Pittsburgh.
It is now on to the Conference finals where New York will face Montreal, a franchise that has not won the Stanley Cup in twenty-one years. That means at least one of the teams in the finals this spring will be an original six franchise.
For Rangers fans hope springs eternal right now that perhaps this is the year that once again New York will once again hoist the Cup. It would be good for hockey and simply great for long-suffering Rangers’ fans.