Your way-too-informative guide to jumping on the Rangers playoff Zamboni

The New York Rangers are four wins away from the Stanley Cup Finals. Come learn everything, possibly more than you need to know, to cheer the city's brave hockey men along.

Your way-too-informative guide to jumping on the Rangers playoff Zamboni
See the giant glowing red letters screaming "RANGERS WIN"? That's what we want. (Photo by Dave Colon)

Two weeks ago, New York City had visions of a repeat of 1994 dashing through its consciousness, as the Knicks and Rangers looked primed for the kind of deep playoff run both tenants of Madison Square Garden hadn’t made simultaneously since the year of the O.J. Simpson car chase. But now, the New York Rangers, the city’s brave and inspiring hockey men, are alone in keeping the dream of 1994 alive after the Knicks ended their season resembling Monty Python’s Black Knight. But if a team exists to end the city’s decade-plus championship drought, it really might be these guys, with their combination of—

Is this another thing about how to get on a bandwagon? Why do I keep getting invited onto these?
Oh I’m sorry that New York City sports is in some kind of upswing where the most important teams (not the Nets) are in various levels of competitiveness. Maybe you’d like to go back to the early 2000s when the center of the sports world was Boston, maybe you’re more one of those people.

I’m sorry I would never want to be mistaken for a Boston person. Please continue, tell me, what’s the deal with the Rangers?
Thank you. Two years ago, the Rangers made a delightful and surprising run to the Eastern Conference Finals, the third round of the playoffs. Last year they flamed out in the first round of the playoffs in such a lifeless fashion that they fired their coach. Hockey knowers figured the Rangers would still be good this year, but no one expected that they would, say, be the best team in hockey or set a franchise record for wins in a season.

Well well well, the Rangers earned the league’s President’s Trophy this season, given to the team with the best record in hockey, and set a franchise record with 54 wins. It was the first time they won the President’s Trophy since 2015, and before that, 1994. The team tied a franchise record for consecutive wins with 10, just like the team from 1994. They blasted through the beginning of the playoffs, winning seven games in a row, which is something that hadn’t been done by a Rangers team since 1994.

What’s with 1994. You mentioned it in the lede too.
Look at you, you know what a lede is. All Rangers fans have a psychological complex about 1994, the last year the team won a Stanley Cup (the coolest trophy in sports). Generally, you don’t want your streak without a championship to last at least 30 years, but it could be worse: the 1994 Rangers ended a 54-year Stanley Cup drought that was one of the most famous championship droughts in the history of sports. Look at this from Game 7 of the 1994 Stanley Cup Final at the Garden, the crowd was so gripped by Cup Madness that they drowned out the the national anthem:

Throw in the fact that the city almost got a two-fer that year because the Knicks made the NBA Finals, and that the Knicks were great at the same time the Rangers were this year, and people were really thinking this could be 1994 all over again. But alas.

But the Knicks lost the Finals that year right? And they just lost in the playoffs now. So maybe it’s a good sign for the Rangers?
I will ignore that and move on. The larger point is that many people, from legendary cranky New York Post hockey guy Larry Brooks to longtime hockey observer my dad to random fans on the street will tell you that this team has really got something. The hockey playoffs are brutal and unforgiving and have deteriorated my mental state considerably already, yet the Rangers still need to win eight more games over two more series to become Stanley Cup champions. So consider it charity, from me to you, that you have only been invited to let this team destroy your life halfway through the playoffs.

What did I miss?
First not that much, followed by a lot. The Rangers made fast work of the Washington Capitals, sweeping a bad team that made the playoffs mostly because the law says eight teams per conference are required to make the playoffs every year. The Rangers then won three games to open their series against the Carolina Hurricanes, anointed as this year’s Stanley Cup favorites by the gambling impresarios of Las Vegas, before the Hurricanes suddenly won two games in a row and made the Rangers look like a team that forgot how to play hockey. Then, down 3-1 in the third period of Game 6 in front of a hostile Raleigh crowd and facing the possibility of an anything can happen Game 7, Rangers assistant captain Chris Kreider did this: 

Wow, three goals.
In a row! In the third period! In an elimination game! And he made that kid cry on national television. A legacy-defining moment for a guy who’s been on the Rangers the longest out of anyone else on the team. The kind of thing that makes people think this team really has something, and the kind of thing that happened in—

Let me guess, 1994?
In 1994 when Rangers captain Mark Messier guaranteed a win and then went out and scored a third period natural hat trick, yes.

Damn that’s crazy. So who else do the Rangers have besides Chris Kreider?
We’ll get to that. First, I’m gonna tell you what you’re supposed to be scared of going into this series.

But you’ve said, repeatedly, that this is just like 1994. There are omens, there are friendly ghosts, there are guys ripping out the hearts of opposing fanbases.
Yes there is all that. But the Florida Panthers, who the Rangers are playing starting today, also want the Stanley Cup.

I hate them! I hate Florida!
Good for you, you should. The Panthers are unfortunately an excellent hockey team. They were the Stanley Cup runner-up last year, they were the third-best team in the league this year, and they handily beat two perennial Stanley Cup contenders in the first two rounds of the playoffs. They have “grit”, they have “snarl”, they can score the puck and they have a team full of guys feeling the madness of having been three wins away from lifting the Stanley Cup. These are all the ingredients you want in a real Stanley Cup contender.

How do I watch?
The series starts tonight (Wednesday) at 8pm, with a game every other day except if the series makes it to Game 7, in which case both teams are given two days off. Catch the full schedule here. The games are on ESPN or ABC, which you can get by borrowing someone’s TV login, or you can check out your local sports bar. This is by far the most compelling local sports to be on TV around here right now.

No like how do I watch. I can’t see the puck.
Oh gotcha. This is a common complaint about trying to watch hockey, and one that Fox tried to solve in the 90s with an embarrassing blue glow around the puck. I know it’s weird to not always be able to see the thing everyone is chasing, as you can see the ball in basketball and football and baseball, but you just have to go with it. Follow the camera movement, as the camera generally follows the puck, and follow where more guys than not are skating to, as they’re probably skating to the puck.

To further understand what's happening, consult the opening scene from Slap Shot, which still does a good job of explaining what the basics of the various penalties are despite being 47 years old.

Also this is just a game where sometimes you need to rely on replay to see what the fuck just happened. Pucks shot towards the goal have a tendency to hit body parts and stick and take weird bounces that defy the laws of physics. I had no idea what happened on this game winning goal for the Rangers, for instance, until I watched a few replays. I’ve watched this other goal from two years ago 100 times and I don’t know how it phased through the many bodies in front of the net. Sometimes, you just don’t know what happened or how.

Also this is just a game where sometimes you need to rely on replay to see what the fuck just happened. Pucks shot towards the goal have a tendency to hit body parts and stick and take weird bounces that defy the laws of physics. I had no idea what happened on this game winning goal for the Rangers, for instance, until I watched a few replays. I’ve watched this other goal from two years ago 100 times and I don’t know how it phased through the many bodies in front of the net. Sometimes, you just don’t know what happened or how.

Okay, I’m ready for some mystery. So what’s gonna happen?
Hockey knowers will tell you that even though the Panthers took 2 out of 3 regular season games, these are two very evenly matched teams. Both teams can score, both teams can hit, both teams are excellent at scoring on the power play and killing penalties. This has the potential to be an incredibly entertaining, high-scoring series and will no doubt push each team to their limit, no matter who wins.

What are the fans yelling?
Oh the chants? You’ll hear a few during the games at MSG (do not ask me what they chant in “Sunrise” “Florida” because I have not watched a Panthers home game all year):

  • LET’S GO RANGERS (clap-clap-clapclapclap): Doesn’t need a lot of explanation I don’t think.
  • REFS YOU SUCK!: They are mad at the refs.
  • IGOR (clap clap) IGOR (clap clap): Igor Shesterkin did something cool.
  • Someone whistling the opening bars to Let’s Go Band followed by everyone yelling POTVIN SUCKS.

This one needs some context: In 1979, the Islanders’ Denis Potvin hit the Rangers’ Ulf Nilson and broke his ankle. Rangers fans have spent 45 years yelling that Potvin sucks, because regional hockey rivalries are only slightly less shot through with historical grievances than, say, your average European secession effort. It whips ass.

Here’s a video explaining it featuring the delightful Howie Rose and a bunch of guys you would never want to spend 10 seconds talking to:

Hey so who are the Panthers' guys? I hate them already.
They have quite a few. They have an excellent goal scorer in Sam Reinhart, who tallied 57 damn lamp lighters (slang for goals because a light goes on when a goal is scored) this season. Their goalie Sergei Bobrovsky won the Vezina Trophy, given to the best goalie of the year, twice in his career. You will come to hate Sam Bennett, who got away with punching a guy into oblivion last series, but you will come to hate Matthew Tkachuk (the T is silent) most of all because Tkachuk combines Bennett’s ability to annoy and injure people with Reinhart’s ability to score goals.

Putting a guy in a headlock during a stoppage in play is regular hockey stuff. (Photo via Flickr user Dinur)

Damn this sounds like a good team.
They are, and what’s worse is that while the games were close, the Panthers went 2-1 against the Rangers this year in the regular season. Also, a President’s Trophy-winning team hasn’t won the Stanley Cup since the Chicago Blackhawks did in 2013. So the trophy might be cursed.

But you said the 1994 Rangers won the President’s Trophy and the Stanley Cup!
I did, so what.

You’re making me nervous and nauseous and I have just gotten onto this bandwagon.
I’m trying to drag you down to my level here. I want you to feel the absolutely sickening depths of Stanley Cup-wanting disease that I have suffered multiple times in the last 10 years. Also I haven’t gotten to the Rangers' guys yet.

Right! Yes, the Rangers' guys, I love them. Who are they?
I’m going to tell you about every single one of them, because hockey is a game where every guy on the bench plays, so you might as well know them all.

The Story of the Rangers' Guys

Wait why did you only tell me about a few of the Panthers guys?
Because I am not a “hockey blogger” I’m a blogger who is a Ranger fan, sheesh. Anyway, let’s get to it. First the offense, which I’m gonna break down by line, because teams play in four sets of three man lines. From left wing to center to right wing the Rangers guys are:

First line: Chris Kreider - Mika Zibanejad - Jack Roslovic
Kreider has had a late-career renaissance as a scorer, with three straight years of over 35 goals, and Zibanejad is a skilled two-way player who can shoot the bejesus out of the puck if given room. Also the two of them are best friends and hug at the end of every Ranger win. Wow! Unfortunately, hockey is a game of throuples and not couples, and the Rangers have had trouble slotting in a third next to these two all year. The team traded for Jack Roslovic a little over halfway through the year, and he’s … fine.

Chris Kreider (l) and Mika Zibanejad (r). Look at them hug! (Photo via Flickr user Dinur)

Second line: Artemi Panarin - Vincent Trocheck - Alexis Lafrenière
Panarin, known as the Bread Man, is an elite, high-scoring player who might go down as the best free agent signee in Rangers history. Opposite Panarin, Alexis Lafrenière was the Rangers' first-ever first overall draft pick in 2020 and came into the league with expectations he would be a generational talent. No pressure kid! After three years of underperformance, he scored 27 goals this year. Between them is Vincent Trocheck, the kind of guy the Rangers were missing last year, in that he wins faceoffs, he scores and defends, he talks massive amounts of shit all game, he taunts guys after the Rangers score and he’s Italian. Just look at how mad he made a fan of the Carolina Hurricanes, who interrupted a New York Post hockey writer mid-conversation to let her know she thought Trocheck was “a butthole.” 

Third line: Filip Chytil - Alex Wennberg - Kappo Kakko
I have no complaints about this line. Except my one complaint with this line, which is that Wennberg and Kakko can possess the puck very well but they don’t get it in the back of the net. Let that be a lesson to you, budding hockey sicko: You can always find something to complain about. But new to this line this series will be Chytil, who’s missed most of the season with a concussion but makes the Rangers much better when he plays. He’s jonesing for the adrenaline rush of being hit in the face and he just might get it if Rangers beat reporter tweets are to be believed.

Fourth line: Will Cuylle - Barclay Goodrow - Jimmy Vesey
Cuylle (pronounced coolee) was a surprise rookie success this year who plays with an edge. Barclay Goodrow is a guy every Stanley Cup winning team needs, a “gamer,” a guy who “plays with sandpaper” and can be slotted in different parts of the lineup but who doesn’t seem like a big skill guy. Jimmy Vesey is a great story: a highly-touted Harvard product who came to the Rangers with great expectations, flamed out, bounced around the league and completely remade his game to be a do-it-all type who doesn’t just need to score to be effective and returned to the Rangers as a respected veteran in time for this run of success.

Joining the three forwards are two defensemen, who play in pairs. The better the defenseman, the more time they spend on the ice over the course of a game. The defensive pairs the Rangers run out there are:

Ryan Lindgren - Adam Fox
The top pair on the team. Lindgren is a seemingly indestructible cyborg, demonstrated here by the fact that he came back less than two full weeks after his knee bent in a way it’s not at all supposed to. Adam Fox is two years removed from being named the best defenseman in the NHL. He’s also from Jericho, New York and when he entered the league he told the team that drafted him and then another team that traded for him that he would only play for the Rangers, which kicks ass.

K’Andre Miller - Jacob Trouba
Jacob Trouba is the team captain, a designation that doesn’t go to the best player necessarily but does go to the best leader. In Trouba’s case, his leadership, at least in public, is seen through his ability to absolutely truck dudes. 

K’Andre Miller is a young, budding star who’s 6’5”, which gives him great reach that allows him to use his stick to disrupt shots and passes. He got in, and won, his first fight this year and made the classic “too small” gesture at the guy whose ass he beat.

Erik Gustaffson - Braden Schneider
Schneider is another young Ranger defenseman who people see potential in. Erik Gustaffson is, like Adam Fox, a more offensive-minded defenseman who does similar things to him, just uh, not as well.

And of course, goalie. You need a goalie, or the puck would just keep going into the net. The Rangers’ starting goalie is Igor Shesterkin, who’s two years removed from his own Vezina Trophy win. Shesterkin is part of an almost unbroken 30+ year line of world-class Ranger goaltenders going back to the mid-90s, the kind of thing some fans of other teams would sell more than one child for. 

Okay but who’s gonna win?


Here's proof I know what I'm talking about. (From the author's private collection)
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