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They Came Home

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-New York Rangers at Carolina Hurricanes James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

I first felt it sitting in Madison Square Garden five minutes before Game 6 started. “Still New York” by MAX was playing, the pre-game hype video was on the jumbotron/ice, the crowd was starting to rev up. As the Rangers exited the locker room I got that strange half calm, half compete panic sensation one does before an elimination game on home ice. Then the thought washed over me.

Just come home.

I hadn’t felt that since 2014, when the Rangers were down 3-1 in their series against Pittsburgh (no not this time, that time) and Martin St. Louis’ mother had just passed away. The Rangers were playing Game 5 on the road and the only care I had was for them to come home. Give me that roaring “hell yeah you got it done” ovation that comes when your boys come out of the locker room after a big playoff win on the road. And specifically to 2014, give us the chance to shower St. Louis with the noise and support he deserves. Let us give him a little but of what he gave us. They did it back then.

And they did it last night.

I’m not sure when this team stated making me believe in magic again, but somewhere along the line it happened. It’s those little moments that sneak up on you. Chris Kreider throwing the iPad when Mika Zibanejad was looking at his missed breakaway against Pittsburgh. Trouba joking about it after Game 7 a few nights later. Igor Shesterkin thanking the crowd for getting behind him after a bad goal. K’Andre Miller playing like a grizzled veteran who has 400 playoff games under his belt. The kid line growing up before our very eyes. The Garden exploding as Barclay Goodrow’s named a surprise starter before Game 6. Two Game 7 victories — one of which came in overtime. Walking out of the Garden after Game 6 into a warm New York City.

It’s Filip Chytil scoring perhaps the three most important goals of the season in the past two games. Ryan Lindgren continuously putting his body on the line and continuously coming back out onto the ice to keep playing. It’s Adam Fox being Adam Fox every single night. Shesterkin’s flashy glove saves where your heart is in your throat. It’s Kreider scoring another goal. Mika Zibanejad scoring enormous goal after enormous goal. It’s literally everything Ryan Reaves does on a nightly basis, from the big hits to being the team dad of the children.

It’s Rangers fans taking over Carolina and making this sound like a home game.

Do you feel it? Have you been feeling it?

I have not had this much fun with a Rangers team since 2014, and honestly, this group might be more fun. They’re younger, growing, learning. They’re babies. There is an inherent pride to watching your children learn to crawl and then walk. You’re only a witness to it, surely, but it’s still special. Your chest still swells. This is the start of this window, not the end of it. Something about that makes this different. We lived through the Letter, the Bubble, the David Quinn experience, and it has all lead us here.

Things are only going to get harder against Tampa. I know that, you know that, they probably know that. But this group is just so different than what we’ve seen in the past. They’re resilient in a way we haven’t seen since the John Tortorella years, only they have more firepower, and their kids are actually growing up in the playoffs. Alexis Lafrenière is a 16-game player. So is Chytil and Kaapo Kakko, Miller, Fox, Lindgren and Shesterkin. Of all those players Shesterkin is the oldest at 26. That doesn’t take away from Braden Schneider holding his own as a 20-year-old playing huge moments in the playoffs.

The Kreider “it’s not a Garden it’s a jungle” quote really stands out to me here. The Garden has been at its absolute best this year in ways I don’t even really remember it ever being. Game 6 was one of the best hockey games I’ve ever been to, and the place was losing its mind from the opening whistle. It’s fun to be a Rangers fan again. It’s fun to see the national media crying their eyes out about this team again. It’s fun to see other fan screaming in your face while your team is playing hockey and their boys are golfing.

You remember why you fell in love with hockey when a team does something like this. You remember why you like believing in magic when a team makes this kind of run.

And you want to reward them for making you feel that way. And guess what?

They’re coming home.