It’s been almost two weeks since the Rangers were eliminated by the Devils in the Eastern Conference Finals. By now, most Ranger fans have accepted the season for what it was. There’s a lot to look forward to with this bunch and they’re moving in the right direction. If you had asked me back in September if I would have signed up for losing in Game 6 of the Conference Finals in OT, I would have gladly taken it. That may sound crazy because it’s not the ultimate result you want, but it was a step in the right direction for a franchise that hadn’t been that far since 1997. Seeing the Devils being down 0-3 to the Kings helps , but maybe that’s just me since I take joy in seeing rival teams get their butts handed to them. All of that being said, you need to remember the past to appreciate where the team has gotten to today. For those who felt like this season was a disappointment, I present you the Top 10 Backbreaking Ranger Playoff losses since 1994 (in chronological order):
1995 Eastern Conference Semifinals – Game 2 – vs. Philadelphia (5/22/1995)
You could just as easily pick Game 1 from this series as a heart breaker (Rangers took a 2-0 lead in Game 1, were ahead 3-2 after 2 periods, blew the lead, Pat Verbeek tied it with 19 seconds left but lost in OT 5-4), but this was the game that broke the Rangers backs for good. Just like Game 1, the Rangers had a 2-0 lead, but Philly fought back and tied the game just before overtime. Kevin Haller scored the game-winner 25 seconds in to the extra session to give the Flyers a 2-0 series lead. The Rangers will was broken by that point, they’d lose Game 3 (5-2) and Game 4 (4-1), and the defending champions were quickly swept away.
1996 Eastern Conference Semifinals – Game 3 – vs. Pittsburgh (5/7/1996)
After being eliminated by the Devils in the 2nd round the previous season, and the Capitals in the 1st round in 1994, the Penguins were back. Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr were clicking, and the Pens were rolling. Pittsburgh posted a 4-1 victory in Game 1, but the Rangers answered back with a 6-3 win in Game 2. The Rangers were coming back to MSG after earning the Steel City Split, but the Penguins quickly stole home ice back and never looked back. Pittsburgh jumped out to a 3-0 lead (2 goals from Lemieux, 1 from Tomas Sandstrom), and that would be enough. The Rangers got two 2nd period goals courtesy of Shane Churla and Niklas Sundstrom, but they’d lose the game 3-2 and lose the series in 5 games.
1997 Eastern Conference Finals – Game 4 – vs. Philadelphia (5/23/1997)
The Rangers were back in the Conference Finals for the first time since their Cup win in 1994. On the other bench was the team that derailed their repeat attempt. The Rangers had won their first two series in five games (against Florida and the top-seeded Devils), and Philadelphia had done the same (against Pittsburgh and Buffalo). After the teams split in Philly, the Flyers dominated Game 3 with a 6-3 win. As the clock winded down in the 3rd period, the game was tied at 2 and the Rangers looked like they’d have chance to even the series. But with 7 seconds remaining, Eric Lindros, the leader of the “Legion of Doom” line, scored the go-ahead goal. The Flyers beat the Rangers 4-2 in Game 5, and there would be no playoff hockey at Madison Square Garden for another 8 years.
2006 – Eastern Conference Quarterfinals – Game 1 – at New Jersey (4/22/2006)
The NHL lockout was over and we had playoff hockey for the first time since the Lightning beat the Flames in the Stanley Cup Finals. At the beginning of the season, the Rangers were expected to be a bottom-feeder. By the time the 2006 Olympics in Torino came around, the Rangers were a juggernaut. After the Olympics, the Rangers wore down (they had 10 Olympians) and blew the Atlantic Division on the last day of the season. New York went from 3rd to 6th place in a matter of minutes (both New Jersey and Philadelphia won to leap-frog them). The slide would continue with a very ugly 6-1 loss to the Devils. The Rangers had a slim chance in the series, and there only chance was a scoring surge from Jaromir Jagr. On top of the Devils domination, Jagr stupidly took a swipe at Devils Center Scott Gomez, missed, and hurt his shoulder in the process. He was out for the rest of the series, and any chance the Rangers had at pulling off an upset was gone. New Jersey won the series 4-0.
2007 – Eastern Conference Semifinals – Game 5 – @ Buffalo (5/4/2007)
The Rangers had their first consecutive playoff appearances since the 1996 and 1997 playoff seasons. The Blueshirts were riding a young goalie named Henrik Lundqvist for a 2nd straight season and had an easy first round sweep of the Thrashers (the franchise’s only playoff appearance in their time in Atlanta). Next up was the top-seeded Sabres. They were also riding a young, hot goalie by the name of Ryan Miller. Buffalo had taken the first two games at home, but the Rangers answered right back with taking both games at MSG (including Michal Rozsival’s double OT game winner in Game 3). It was a tight 0-0 game until about 3 minutes to go, when a Martin Straka shot went over Miller’s shoulder to give the Rangers a late 1-0 lead. Lundqvist made 36 saves, but the 37th shot with 7.7 seconds to go from the stick of Chris Drury (who would then go on to rob $7 million a year from the Rangers) got by Lundqvist. At 4:39 of overtime, Maxim Afinogenov gave the Sabres a 3-2 series lead. The Rangers battled hard at home in Game 6, but Buffalo was better and advanced.
2008 – Eastern Conference Semifinals – Game 1 – @ Pittsburgh (4/25/2008)
Another year and another playoff berth for the Rangers. New York disposed of the rival Devils in five games in the 1st round. Next up was another division rival, the Pittsburgh Penguins. I was one of many that underestimated the Penguins going in to this series (2008 was the first of two consecutive Cup appearances for the Pens), and the Rangers justified those beliefs with a 3-0 lead early in the 2nd period. But after two goals that went in off of Rangers and a Pascal Dupuis one-timer from Sidney Crosby, the game was tied 4:30 in to the 3rd period. Petr Sykora put the Penguins ahead, but Scott Gomez would tie the game for the Rangers at 10:04 of the 3rd. A questionable interference call on Marty Straka lead to a Evgeni Malkin power play goal, and a Jaromir Jagr shot with 12 seconds left rang off the iron. The Pens took the opener en route to a 4-1 series win.
2009 – Eastern Conference Quarterfinals – Game 7 – @ Capitals (4/28/2009)
Blowing a 3-1 series lead is always tough to swallow, and the Rangers did just that. After a tight 2-1 win in Game 4, the Rangers were shutout on 20 shots by Semyon Varlamov in Game 5. In Game 6, the Rangers were trailing 3-1 after the 1st period, 5-1 after the 2nd, and would go on to lose 5-3. It was back to the nation’s capital for Game 7. After the teams traded 1st period goals (NYR-Nik Antropov, WAS-Alex Semin), Sergei Fedorov scored his first goal of the playoffs with 4:59 remaining in the 3rd to give the Capitals the come-from-behind series win. I’m a big believer that John Tortotella’s benching of Sean Avery in Game 5 (after he took some late penalties in Game 4), who was a sparkplug for the Rangers in that series, is what set the wheels in motion for the collapse. Tortorella got in to an incident with a fan in Washington in Game 5 that got him suspended for Game 6 (so much for setting a standard of showing restraint), and the Caps stole the momentum).
2011 – Eastern Conference Quarterfinals – Game 4 – vs. Capitals (4/20/2011)
After a yearlong absence from the playoffs, the Rangers were back in the postseason. New York needed to beat the Devils in the last game of the regular season and needed the Lightning to beat the Hurricanes and got both. Washington took the first two in Washington, but a late Brandon Dubinsky goal gave the Rangers a Game 3 win. New York held a 3-0 lead heading in to the 3rd period, and it looked like it was about to become a Best of 3 series. But Washington rallied in the 3rd period, capped off by a John Carlson goal with 7:53 left to force OT. One overtime wouldn’t get it done, but Caps LW Jason Chimera completed the comeback 12:36 in to the 2nd overtime to give Washington a 4-3 win and a 3-1 series lead. The Capitals finished off the Rangers at the Verizon Center in the next game 3-1.
2012 – Eastern Conference Finals – Game 5 – vs. Devils (5/23/2012)
These two bitter rivals were facing off again for the 3rd time in six years in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The series was knotted at 2-2, but the Devils jumped out to a big lead early in Game 5. New Jersey had a 3-0 lead before the 1st period had hit the 10 minute-mark. A Brandon Prust goal before the end of the 1st period gave the Rangers some life. An early 2nd period goal off of Ryan Callahan made it a game, and a Marian Gaborik tally tied the game early in the 3rd period. Both teams sat back after that and it looked like things were heading towards a huge overtime. But Ryan Carter lit the lamp with 4:24 remaining on a Stephen Gionta centering feed and the Devils escaped MSG with a 3-2 series lead.
2012 – Eastern Conference Finals – Game 6 vs. Devils (5/25/2012)
After losing in heart-breaking fashion in Game 5, Game 6 ended up being a repeat. The Devils jumped out to a 2-0 1st period lead, the Rangers battled back with two goals in the 2nd, and both teams played very cautious in the 3rd period. The series saw its first overtime, but it only lasted 1:03. Adam Henrique put home the aforementioned rebound (his second OT series clincher of the playoffs) to send the Devils to their 5th Stanley Cup Finals in franchise history. Since 1994, the Devils are 3-1 (this series pending) in the Stanley Cup Finals, while the Rangers remain without an appearance.
2010 – Regular Season Game 82 – @ Philadelphia (4/11/2010) – *Not a playoff game but prevented an appearance
-With two games left in the regular season, the Rangers needed to sweep the home and home with the Flyers to get in to the playoffs (after a 3 week stretch where the Rangers had to claw their way back in to the playoff hunt). On Friday night (4/9), the Rangers won 4-3 at MSG, setting up a Sunday matinee-one game playoff in Philly. New York tough guy Jody Shelley scored at 3:27 of the 1st period to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead that would hold up for most of the game. In the 3rd period, Flyers defenseman Matt Carle scored on their power play to even things up. The teams went scoreless in OT, setting up a shootout for the right to go to the playoffs. Danny Briere scored in the 1st inning of the shootout while Erik Christensen was denied. In the 2nd inning, Mike Richards’ attempt was turned away by Lundqvist, but P.A. Parenteau put one past Brian Boucher to even things at 1. Claude Giroux led off the 3rd inning with a successful wrist shot from 23 feet out to put all of the pressure in the world on Olli Jokinen. The Rangers season ended on a backhand attempt on the stick of a meager trade deadline acquisition. The Blueshirts missed the playoffs for the first time since 2003-04, while the Flyers went on to lose to the Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Finals.