It’s hard to imagine that it’s been five long years since playoff hockey took center stage on Broadway. Now, the New York Rangers and their fans get their turn in the spotlight.
Game 1 between the Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins marked the first time since the Blue Shirts lost Game 7 to the Ottawa Senators on May 9, 2017, that the New York battled for Lord Stanley’s Cup on Madison Square Garden ice. In fact, it’s the first time the Rangers have been in the playoffs since then, not counting their short bubble series in 2020 against the Carolina Hurricanes.
Only a handful of players from that 2017 squad are left on the current edition of the Rangers and know what it felt like to play in front of a packed Garden crowd in the postseason. So for many, it’s a new experience, but for Chris Kreider, he knows just how special it can be.
“I think just the energy in the building, the support that we have and the noise is hard to put into words,” Kreider said. “There really isn’t a better place to play playoff hockey, especially as a home team. It certainly adds to it and adds to the entire experience. I’ve said it a few times, it’s a lot of fun.”
While their corporate cousins, the New York Knicks, have struggled over the years, the New York Rangers had made playoff hockey a pretty common occurrence in the spring in Manhattan. For seven straight seasons dating from 2011 to 2017, the Rangers qualified for the postseason and that included two trips to the Eastern Conference Finals and a trip to the Stanley Cup Final in 2014.
Their final playoff appearance in 2017 saw them reach the conference semifinals.
“It feels like a long time ago now,’’ Kreider said about that experience in 2017. “I was in a different position, being kind of a young guy on that team and just worried about not stepping on eggshells. But I think regardless of whether you’re on a team that’s been to the playoffs multiple years in a row, as a veteran, as young, I mean, there’s always excitement this time of year. There’s always butterflies, and guys are just excited to come to the rink. They’re excited to compete and play.”
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For the New York Rangers young guns like Alexis Lafrenière, an added layer of excitement came from getting to compete in the Chase for the Cup in one of professional sports most iconic buildings. Lafrenière, playing in just his second NHL season, called playing at Madison Square Garde a “huge privilege.”
“Just every night the building is so loud and I can’t wait to see how it’s gonna be in the playoffs,” the former first overall pick said in the lead-up to Game 1. “I’m not worried about our fans too much. They’ve been so good all year long and I know they’re going to show up and be loud for us.”
Just to pinpoint how much has changed since the Rangers’ last playoff run five years ago, New York is on its second head coach since then in Gerard Gallant and he is also going through his first postseason experience at MSG like many of his players are.