Well, here we are my friends. It's the day of Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final and our Rangers find themselves in a 3-0 hole. It's raining, they're up to their nipples in mud and water (that's right, I said nipples), and every time they break the surface to suck down some air they get a mouthful of mud shoveled down their throats from the shovels of the Kings. It's bleak. It's desperate. Everyone is pissed off and anxious.
But take a deep breath and look at what this team has accomplished. What did you guys expect from Alain Vigneault's Rangers in October, November, or December? Maybe a wild card spot and a first round knock out that we could all pat each other on the back about and say, "Well, it was AV's first year!" And then we could all do what some of us are already doing now; start talking about buying out Richards, trading away the freshly signed Girardi, and how we should sign Grabovski because he's under the radar despite the fact that everyone is talking about him and how he'll be a steal. You know, all of that good stuff.
However, Vigneault and the Rangers accomplished so much more than any of us reasonably expected them to. If you are one of those pie-eyed oracles that predicted in October that the Rangers would be in the Stanley Cup Final after mowing down the Flyers, Penguins, and Canadiens I would appreciate if you could start making predictions about other things so we can study you and keep you in a nice, sturdy tank somewhere. We'll feed you tater tots whenever you make a good prediction and you'll never have to worry about anything again except for earning that next sweet, salty tot. Kinda like the weird pale siblings from Minority Report but without the Tom Cruise, murder, and really cool wooden balls that I wanted very badly for a year or two.
This team is more tragically flawed than a snail that has chosen to move his family into a salt mine. This is a team in transition. It has a new coach with a new style of play that is stuck with several players that simply do not fit into his design. We all know who these players are, although we don't all agree about what the team should do about them. We know that having Brad Richards on the point of the power play is a lot like having a very heavy rock as the lead dog on a sledding team. We know that Rick Nash not scoring goals in the playoffs for two straight years now is, in a word, alarming. We know that Dan Girardi is slow and Ryan McDonagh makes him look a great deal better than he actually is. We know that it's hard to win when you don't have a power play, when you make turnovers in your own zone, when you take offensive zone penalties, and when you suffer some of the most ridiculously bad luck imaginable.
Despite all of these things... the Rangers found themselves in the Stanley Cup Final. They got through Giroux and the Flyers. They got through Crosby, Malkin, and the Penguins. And they got through P.K. Subban and the Habs. This team that so many of you are saying that you're done with. This team that so many of you are saying "sucks". This team, with all of its flaws and shortcomings, emerged as the Champion of the Eastern Conference.
This team has given us more to cheer about in the past few weeks than any of us could have dared to hope for. This team was forged by tragedy, brotherhood, and effort and has gotten this far not because they were the best team in the tournament, or even the best team in the Eastern Conference, but because they willed themselves here.
And for me, that is enough. It was enough for me when they got past the Flyers in seven, and again when they got past the Penguins in seven after going down 3 to 1 in the series, and again when they got past the Habs in six. Look at this roster. Look at the guys who are producing and who aren't producing and try to explain how the hell this team got here without smiling and feeling proud to be a Rangers fan. Imagine what this team can be if it is managed correctly, or even half-decently. Imagine how valuable this experience is for guys like Ryan McDonagh, Chris Kreider, Carl Hagelin, and Derek Stepan.
The last three games have felt like having a butter knife slowly screwed into our stomachs and tonight we might watch our last Rangers hockey game until fall, but if this is the last game of the 2014 NHL Playoffs for the Rangers, try to enjoy it. Try to enjoy this team for what it is and what it can be. Try to embrace the fact that this team, in all likelihood, can only get better in the offseason. Will they get another chance like this next year or the year after that? Who knows. Maybe we can jiggle a bowl of steamy tater tots at those guys we put in that tank and get an answer to that, but until we put together the funds to make the tanks and build the underground facility we'll do what fans always do; we'll watch and we'll wait.
We'll watch and we'll wait because the games mean something to us. We'll watch and we'll wait because the game can touch us and remind us of what is really important. We'll watch and we'll wait because we'd feel as if we have betrayed ourselves and a great tradition if we didn't. We'll watch and we'll wait because we're hockey fans and so long as there is enough time on the clock, anything is possible, and even if tonight's game ends in a loss, there is still plenty of time left on the clock for this team and for our tenure as Rangers fans.
Whatever happens, thanks for the unforgettable season boys. Now go take it to the Kings tonight. Leave it all out on the ice. I'll be sure to cheer myself hoarse and make all of my neighbors feel very concerned about me.
Let's go Rangers.