The final step is always the hardest. Yes it's a cliche, but that doesn't mean the age-old saying isn't true -- especially at a time like this.
The New York Rangers are a single win away from going to their first Stanley Cup Finals since 1994. It also happens to be the closest the team has gotten to the Finals since 1994, since the run in 2012 ended with the Rangers two wins away.
The moment became real for me after the game on Sunday. With the scored tied 2-2 and a pivotal Game 4 hanging in the balance of overtime you really could feel the tension. The difference between a 2-2 series going back to Montreal or a 3-1 series is so large it's hard to articulate for you here.
The emotions in The Garden were familiar. It was a blend of pure horror and confidence the likes of which I really haven't felt before. When Benoit Pouliot too a brainless holding the stick penalty, everyone instinctively assumed the game was over. When the Rangers killed off the penalty and got their footing back, the confidence started growing. Then Carl Hagelin got the puck to an all alone Martin St. Louis at the right circle.
I'm not sure about you, but as I watched St. Louis drive to the net at that angle all I could think to myself was: "There's no way he's scoring from that angle." You know what happened next. St. Louis rifled home a perfect shot to win the game and send The Garden into a frenzy. The Rangers mobbed him in the corner before they saluted the crowd at center ice.
That wasn't the moment that made me realize how potentially real this was, however. That moment came when I was leaving The Garden. The place was going crazy, people were chanting and horns were honking. And as I stepped outside I realized for the first time how warm it was. How close to summer it is. How we're less than a week away from June and the Rangers are still playing hockey games.
That, more than anything, brought the moment closer to home for me. It also made me realize how far away the Rangers still are.
Tonight's game will be monumentally important. Finishing off this series tonight will go a long way in making sure the Canadiens don't find any life in this series. The Rangers are smart enough to know this series isn't over -- which they've repeated time and time again to the media -- and they're smart enough to know Montreal is going to come out flying tonight.
But if they win a hockey game they haven an opportunity to do something they haven't done in 20 years. They're one step away from that goal. It's easier said than done, however.
The last step is always the hardest after all.