Suddenly, Madison Square Garden has gotten a lot quieter. No more of those rollicking viewing parties in Central Park. Sports-talk radio can now get back to obsessing about whether the Yankees can re-sign Aaron Judge to a gargantuan nine-year/$360 million contract or bungle the negotiations to the point when the superstar outfielder bolts the Bronx for greener pa$ture$.
All of this because the New York Rangers – our town’s version of the Little Engine That Ultimately Couldn’t – have been eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs of the National Hockey League. No miracle on Thirty-Third Street this season. The new mantra at Madison Square Garden is the same one that never-say-die Brooklyn Dodgers recited throughout the early 1950s: Wait til next year!
Wallowing in Self-Pity
Ranger fans are taking the defeat very hard. As they should! After all, the team had a lead over the Tampa Bay Lightning of two games to none in a best-of-seven series, and a 2-0 lead during the pivotal game three. By winning that third game, the Rangers would have built an almost insurmountable advantage of three games to none. But all of this is eventually meaningless. Tampa won the series. Turn the page.
In time, Ranger fans will feel better and put the season into perspective. They are wallowing in self-pity right now. No matter that Tampa happened to be the TWO-TIME defending league champions. No matter that this was the Rangers’ first playoff appearance in five years. No matter that the Rangers had the youngest team in the league. No matter that Tampa was definitely – gulp – the better team. How good is Tampa? Tampa now qualifies for the Stanley Cup Finals for the third consecutive season. The last time an NHL team accomplished the feat was the New York Islanders of the early 1980s – some 40 years ago. The Rangers and their fans have nothing to be ashamed of.
Tampa taught the upstart Rangers the most valuable lesson in sports: how to win. That is, how to hold leads, how to come from behind, how to play its best level in the closing moments of games, how to avoid making stupid mistakes at the most inopportune time. How to expect to win, and not be surprised when good things happen along the way.
The Rangers have a lot to look forward to. The team discovered a core of players in their very early twenties – appropriately nicknamed The Kid Line. They have the best goalie in the world, 26-year-old Igor Shesterkin. Adam Fox, who anchors the defense, is one of the best players in the NHL, too. I profiled Fox in these pages late last year: https://www.otdowntown.com/voices/adam-fox-the-new-york-rangers-great-jericho-hope-XC1859033.
Ah, Sports Fans
Still, the agony of defeat is ... well, agonizing. It’s a little like getting every number right except for the last one on a lottery ticket – so close, but no cigar (yet another beloved sports cliché!).
One of the reasons that people love sports is that it allows us to escape our reality and make our humdrum lives seem more important than usual. We take pride in the accomplishments of strangers who represent our cities, even though many of the players never acknowledge the fans’ support and even dishonor their loyalty by breaking the law.