How the Rangers returned to the NHL Playoffs

How the Rangers returned to the NHL Playoffs

Mark Reyes, a season ranger ticket holder since 2001, sat on blue benches with his two sons, who grew up as children under the cult roof of Madison Square Garden.

For two decades, they watched as their team failed to reach the NHL playoffs almost as many times as they qualified, and then, on February 8, 2018, they received a famous email from Rangers management. It explained the incredible and was a note of demarcation. Their team, which was based in the heart of Manhattan and could lay out more financial muscle than any other team in hockey, was rebuilding for the future.

“I was really ready for the reset,” said Reiss, a coastal marine scientist. “But when you read this e-mail, you have a hole in your stomach. There was a feeling that “okay, it will be rude.”

The rough part is finally over. Four years after not playing in the playoffs, Reiss, his youngest son, Mateo, and thousands of other loyal Rangers fans will fill the garden on Tuesday for the first home playoff game since Letter.

Flight has said in recent years that he has become a little impatient with the process, but no matter how difficult it may be at times, the result has been Artemi Panarin’s shot. The 2021-22 Rangers shattered expectations in the breakthrough season under their first-year coach, Gerard Gallant.

The Blue Shirts have won 52 games and 110 points, the most since they won 53 and had the league best record in 2015. They fought for the Metropolitan Division crown until the last week of the season and won the home ice. The first round of the playoffs against Pittsburgh Penguin.

They did it all as the second youngest team in the playoffs, with an average age of 26.5 years, according to Elite Prospects, which confirms the belief that this team is more than a one-hit wonder.

“They have given this city hope that they are on the road to winning the championship,” said Joe Micheletti, a former player and assistant coach and Rangers analyst at MSG since 2006. “They are the contenders for the cup this year. And they are only going to get better. “Everyone can feel it.”

When the Nets were knocked out of the NBA playoffs last month, the talk escalated as to which New York team could win the next championship. Many mentioned the Mets and the Yankees. But what about the Rangers?

“We are a good team, we are ready to take off,” Gallant said recently, “and that is what we want to be.”

The reconstruction that put the team on the runway was an intriguing process from the start. In New York, Mark’s teams rarely begin a complete overhaul, and the rangers, team owner James L. Under Dolan’s leadership, it seemed unlikely they would do so – and so it was publicly acknowledged.

Veterans traded, the team purchased a contract with Henrik Lundqvist, the beloved goalkeeper, and bought him with key players such as Adam Fox, Caapo Caco No. 2 in 2019, and Alex LaFrenier 1 in 2020. Their compatriots in the first round K’Andre Miller, Braden Schneider and goalkeeper Igor Shesterkin represent the long-term youth nucleus of a happy future. Shesterkin is 26 years old, the rest are under 25 years old.

But Rangers have never lost sight of the veterans, in 2019 they signed Panarin as a free agent and extended the contracts of Mika Zibanejad and Chris Craider. It seems that things, however methodically, were going in a positive direction.

But then, in a stunning departure, the original architects of the effort – Jeff Gorton and John Davidson – were fired after last season, and David Quinn, the coach, will soon follow them out the door. Perhaps the recovery was a bit off Too Methodical for Dolan. He promoted Chris Drew, a former Rangers player and young baseball star from Trambul, Con.

The release of Quinn and the hiring of a gallant were Drour’s most important moves, creating a tone that called for players and fans to have an enhanced sense of urgency under a pointless coach. But Drew also clarified the list that Gorton mostly created. He added Ryan Reeves and Barclay Goodrow over the summer to add a bit of a joke, and then, before the March 21 trading deadline expired, he acquired players such as Frank Watrano, Andrew Cope and Tyler Mott. After the deadline, the Rangers played their best hockey.

If the current list is a recipe for different ingredients prepared step by step by different chefs, Gallant is the one who gathered it all for the presentation. Michelett, who will mark the first round of the MSG Network playoffs, along with Sam Rosen, cites Gallant as “the most unique coach in the NHL.”

“He does not train,” said Micheletti, “and it’s just unique these days. It keeps enough distance and allows players to manage the team. If they do not, then he will get involved. But he usually does not need it because he trusts the players and they take possession.

With the Detroit Red Wings and Tampa Bay Lightning for 11 years, the 58-year-old gallant played a direct team game, scoring goals, assisting and throwing shoulders and fists when needed.

His direct coaching style, which came out in that somewhat past era, seems to have opened up the Rangers ’potential. Gallant wants the nest to move towards the ice and not sideways. He wants the players to fight to get the ball back, and if they lose the bouquet, to fight equally to get it back. It requires contributions at both ends of the ice, but allows players to highlight their exceptional talents, especially when they are as talented as Panarin.

“That’s what it was,” Gallant said recently. “Let them do what they are going to do.”

Gallant prepared one of the best coaching performances of any sport when he pulled the extended Vegas Golden Knights, on the veterans list, to the Stanley Cup final in 2018, their first season in the league, before they lost five games to the Washington Capitals. . Two years later, the team fired him in the middle of the season.

In New York he had a revival with a much younger team, but without a change of approach. Vatrano, who has scored eight goals in 22 games since joining Rangers, said the coach’s message when he arrived was simple: Be yourself.

“The biggest thing is that he does not restrict your game,” Vatrano said. “It allows you to play. If you are an abusive guy, he wants you to do performances, but in this structure he also wants you to play smart. If you mess up, you know you spoiled it. ”

But Gallant is not behind the screaming chair. That reduced tensions when things went awry, allowing the Rangers to win from behind and win 27 times this season, the most in the NHL.

It does not seem coincidental that several players, including Panarin, Miller, Zibanejad, and especially Kraider and Shesterkin, spend their careers under Gallant’s tutelage.

Shesterkin’s fascinating rise this season is the likely key to any potential success in the playoffs. In the league he has the highest save percentage (.935) and the lowest goal average (2.07). He is the likely winner of the Vezina trophy as the best goalkeeper and the reason why some consider the ranger a threat.

“They have the skills and the very good mix of young players, they have a goalkeeper,” said Peter Laviolett, the Capitals’ coach. “Reconstruction is over. They are ready. ”

Micheletti said that at some point this season he noticed that the Rangers had acquired the belief that they could beat anyone in the league. The fans found out about it too. Some of them, like Flight, are wondering if the lack of Rangers experience can knock them out of the playoffs. But there are still playoffs.

“It’s been four years,” Flight said, referring to the club’s promise to the fans. “I am quite cynical by nature. But from where I crawl on the blue chairs, what is the complaint? ”

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