- Last Updated: 8:30 AM, May 14, 2012
- Posted: 1:49 AM, May 14, 2012
The Rangers are halfway home, no more and no less than that after taking consecutive seven-game series against the Senators and Capitals that already seem like preliminaries to a conference final against the Devils that has the feel of a Main Event.
The loser of this Battle of the Hudson, the first since 1994 in which the winner will advance to play for the Stanley Cup, will gain no solace from having been a part of New York/New Jersey hockey history any more than the winner will be ultimately satisfied with anything other than lifting the chalice, but still, this is the moment and this is a slice of something special.
And Henrik Lundqvist, who may be The King but at the same time must dethrone Martin Brodeur in this matchup of NHL goaltending royalty, understands that.
“There’s enough pressure as is, so I don’t think anything has to be added to it, but it’s a great challenge for me to play against [Brodeur] and against [the Devils],” Lundqvist said yesterday after the Rangers met to begin preparations for the series that opens at the Garden tonight.
“There are so many things that make this series special. Being in the conference final, No. 1, is a great feeling. Playing the Devils, that’s a special feeling, absolutely,” said The King, who has allowed two goals or fewer in 10 of the 14 games against Ottawa and Washington. “I’m looking forward to the atmosphere in both buildings.
“There are a lot of things that make this a little bit special.”
Not the least of which, of course, is that the winner remains alive in the hunt for the Stanley Cup. The Rangers have done something in advancing to the conference final for the first time since 1997, but when they opened in Stockholm more than seven months ago, nobody set the bar at this height.
The Rangers have been aiming higher right from the start.
“All we’ve done is get halfway,” said Brad Richards. “I think we’ve grown as a team getting through these rounds, the level of bounce-back; we’ve definitely gotten better but so have the other three teams still in it.
“We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. We’ve played two rounds and have to play two more.”
There’s little chance of the Rangers losing their focus. This is a team whose tunnel vision is as great an asset as its willingness to block shots. For the moment the Tunnel in their sights is named after Lincoln.
“This is something we’ve been building toward,” Ryan Callahan said of his team’s place in the league hierarchy. “We’ve been progressing every year, we’ve stuck with it, and we have confidence in the game plan.”
Each team won three games in the season series, the Rangers getting all of theirs in regulation with the Devils winning one in a shootout. The series was marked by 11 fights, including the infamous three-ring line brawl off the opening faceoff at the Garden on March 19. No one should be surprised if gloves are dropped tonight.
This is an interesting time in the Battle of the Hudson. Neither team is in position to crow. Neither is downtrodden. Each team has made the playoffs in six of the seven seasons since the lockout and each comes into this showdown having won a total of four playoff rounds since then.
“In New Jersey, the one rivalry was the Rangers, you circled those games on the calendar,” said the winger who spent parts of five years in New Jersey and won a Cup as a Devil in 2003. “Here, it feels like a 1A/1B with the Flyers in the mix and the Islanders, also.
“You look, just through the course of a game, you see on the jumbotron what those guys [from 1994] have meant and what they still mean to the organization and this city,” Rupp said.
“It’s kind of a surreal thought to think we’re close to being in a position to create some pretty awesome memories in New York for hockey.”