Simply put, the 2013-2014 Rangers weren't supposed to.
With a first-year head coach, a nine-game road trip, and two of their top six forwards injured to begin the season, they weren't supposed to overcome a horrid start.
Tomas Hertl's four goals. Martin Biron's retirement. Rick Nash's concussion. The blemishes continued to pile up, and the only certainty was that the Rangers weren't supposed to turn it around.
Then came another injury to Ryan Callahan. Henrik Lundqvist was going through his worst stretch of hockey as a professional, and, his future status with the team was unknown.
Mats Zuccarello was benched. Benoit Pouliot was benched. Lundqvist sat and watched Cam Talbot, a 26-year-old undrafted free agent for three consecutive games, the longest such stretch of his career.
And then suddenly, around Christmas time, if not only on the strength of a holiday miracle, things began to change.
Callahan and Nash had returned, and the latter found his scoring touch. Lundqvist began to come out of his funk, maybe just a regression that was bound to happen, or maybe just a precursor to his signing a new extension.
The Rangers began to climb back into the playoff picture, and then came a development at the trade deadline that seemed near impossible.
Facing a decision on whether to re-sign Dan Girardi or Callahan, and trade the other, Glenn Sather swapped the Blueshirts' captain for Martin St. Louis.
The Rangers weren't supposed to play with the same jam or grit (those intangibles that we now can safely say are more mythical than actually important when it comes to winning games) without Callahan's presence.
But St. Louis brought with him the scoring touch of a top-tier forward, and the experience of winning a Stanley Cup. The only problem was, it was all on paper, and St. Louis couldn't find the back of the net in his first 14 games in a New York sweater.
When St. Louis finally did score against the Canucks and the Rangers' old head coach John Tortorella, Ryan McDonagh went down with an apparent shoulder injury, and while the Blueshirts looked destined for the Eastern Conference's top eight, they'd enter the postseason limping, a lower seed, and without much of a chance of making a deep playoff run.
For everything the Rangers weren't supposed to do this season, adversity proved to be more of a calling card than an exit slip.
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So came the Flyers, who the Rangers went win-for-win with in round one. As Nash and the Rangers marquee forwards remained off the scoresheet, Daniel Carcillo scored the decisive goal in Game 7 of round one eliminating his former team.
While the Rangers may have held some advantages against the Philadelphia, a Metropolitan Division showdown with the Penguins would surely spell the end to New York's season. They weren't supposed to make it to the East's final two, especially after falling behind Pittsburgh in the series 3-1.
But then, more adversity, but as was the case all season, the team found a way.
Just a day before the Rangers were set to take the ice for the their first elimination game against the Penguins, the team learned of the sudden passing of France St. Louis. Whether Martin would play or not seemed trivial. Such personal tragedy in the context of a game would always take precedent.
But Martin did play. The Rangers won Game 5. Then he played again—and scored—on Mother's Day, and the Rangers won Game 6. And not to see their comeback efforts be all for not, Lundqvist anchored the Rangers in a Game 7 win in Pittsburgh to overcome the first 3-1 series deficit in franchise history.
You didn't think they were done, did you?
Well the Rangers weren't supposed to be able to take down Montreal, the team that had just eliminated the league's best in the Bruins, and who's home arena, the Bell Centre, was more like going to the dentist's office for Lundqvist than simply a road game.
The Rangers weren't supposed to reach the Stanley Cup, were they?
A 2-0 lead against the Canadiens was quickly cut in half, and then Derek Stepan was lost to a broken jaw. If it looked like the Rangers were finally "supposed to" after grabbing a quick edge against the Habs, the story was quickly changing back to how it was formerly written. Still, the Rangers found a way, and Stepan came back after missing just one game, scoring two goals in a losing effort.
The Rangers wouldn't turn it into a streak though, as Henrik Lundqvist responded from his worst effort all postseason to shut out Montreal, and send New York to its first Stanley Cup in two decades.
So again, the Rangers found themselves some where they were never supposed to get, but finally, the adversity the Blueshirts faced was too much to overcome.
A 3-0 deficit against a better Kings team was never going to end in a Stanley Cup. Sure, the Rangers very well could have won three of those games, having fallen in overtime, and coming so close in each of those contests to netting the winner. Chris Kreider hit a post in Game 2. McDonagh and Zuccarello both struck iron in Game 5. Puck luck or or bounces be damned, the Rangers were inches away from turning it into a dramatically different series.
Of course, keeping in mind, not only were they never supposed to hang with the favorited Los Angeles squad, they weren't even supposed to recover from their 2-6 start.
So why not take a second to put these Rangers into perspective. To consider just how much this team faced, and, how effectively they responded in those moments. Having come so close to bringing the Cup back to New York for the first time in 20 years, the memory will never be resoundingly positive. No is being asked to or should rewrite history. No asterisk needs to be placed next to the championship series line with a footnote that says, "but the Rangers came really close."
And that's because, short of a Stanley Cup, the Rangers accomplished about as much as any team could on or off the ice. When the season began they welcomed back Dominic Moore, a player whom they had drafted originally in 2000, and who was returning to hockey having taken a year off following the passing of his late wife Katie.
There's Marc Staal, who's career looked in jeopardy about a year ago when after returning from a gruesome eye injury, he took himself out of the playoffs against the Capitals, deeming himself unfit to play.
Whatever order you choose to tell the Rangers 2013-2014 season in, there are so many bright moments, and no reason to make it out in any other way, shape, or form.
Over and over again, the Rangers weren't supposed to. Now that it's all finished, it's pretty clear they never cared.