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Photo of the Week #207

June 3, 2014

Well, folks, this is why they actually play the games instead of letting computer algorithms calculate who advances through the playoffs. The New York Rangers will be playing in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 20 years despite some long odds.

As the final buzzer sounds and streamers fall from the ceiling at Madison Square Garden, the New York Rangers, coaches and fans celebrate their series victory over the Montreal Canadiens, advancing the Rangers to their first Stanley Cup Final in 20 years.
May 29, 2014: As the final buzzer sounds and streamers fall from the ceiling at Madison Square Garden, the New York Rangers, coaches and fans celebrate their series victory over the Montreal Canadiens, advancing the Rangers to their first Stanley Cup Final in 20 years. — ©MSG

There are a number of reasons why Rangers fans may not have expected their team to compete for hockey’s ultimate prize this season. In the press conference following this latest victory, even Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault admitted his early doubt, when his team started 2-6. When asked if back then he could have imagined them advancing to the Final, Vigneault responded, “In October? Probably would have said, ‘What are you smoking?’” But New York turned things around in late December, had a strong second half of the season, and qualified for the postseason.

In the first round of the playoffs versus the Philadelphia Flyers, the Rangers had their challenges. Despite winning Game 1, they traded wins with Philadelphia every other game, unable to grab a two game lead. Dating back to 2009, they had amassed an 0-12 record in games while holding a series lead. But no matter, New York won Game 7 at home, 2-1, and advanced to the second round.

Against the Pittsburgh Penguins, a team with a superior regular-season record, the Rangers stole a 3-2 overtime win on the road in Game 1, then proceeded to lose their next three. New York wasn’t helped by having to play five games in seven days (dating back to the previous series), a grueling playoff schedule no NHL team has had to endure in 25 years. Now down 3-1 in the series, they faced a deficit that no Rangers team had overcome. In 90 years, 16 of their teams had been down 3-1, and every single one of those series ended in defeat. This year is different. The Rangers have improved to 1-16 in those situations.

Even with plenty of feel-good energy from two Game 7 victories, the odds were stacked against New York in the next round. No team in NHL history had won its third round after playing the maximum 14 games in its first two rounds. To make matters worse, they’d be facing the Montreal Canadiens and have to play their first two games on the road. Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist hadn’t won in Montreal since 2009 (!), posting an overall 4-5-2 record there, with a 3.87 goals-against-average and .876 save percentage, atrocious in comparison to his phenomenal career numbers (309-195-62, 2.26 GAA, .920 save percentage). Ah, but they do play the games, don’t they? Statistics be damned, Lundqvist and the Rangers won those first two games on the road, and finished off the Canadiens in six games, resulting in the jubilation you see pictured above.

Tomorrow evening New York will face the Los Angeles Kings in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final. The Kings have slayed some statistical demons of their own this year, having become the 4th team in NHL playoff history to overcome a 3-0 deficit (in the first round versus the San Jose Sharks). They also one-upped the Rangers by becoming the first NHL team to advance to the Final by winning three Game 7’s, all on the road, no less. In what looks to be an evenly matched series, we’ll likely see records broken by these teams for playoff games in a season (26) and playoff games by a Cup winner (25), but I guess we’ll actually have to play the games to find out for sure, won’t we?

Photo tech specs: Canon 5D Mark III camera, 70-200mm f2.8 II lens @ 140mm, f3.5, 1/800th, ISO 1600.

To view a full-screen version of this photo, visit the Photo of the Week section of AviGerver.com.

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