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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

My Last Caps vs. Rangers Playoff Game

So it is. The New York Rangers. The classiest organization in the league. The team that plays in the greatest city in the world.

And in the greatest arena in the world. And has the best fans ever. So they say.

The last time I was at a Caps/Rangers playoff game I was in high school. To be precise, the date was May 7, 1994.  It was Game 4 of the second round.

Interestingly enough, in the first round the Caps beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in 6 games.

It was the first/last/only time the Caps have beaten the Penguins in the playoffs. Vomit.

And heading into this fateful Saturday night in Landover, the Caps trailed the Rangers 3 games to 0. Lots of annoying Rangers fans at the Capital Centre.

Pretty sure I saw a few brooms there, too.

I had a feeling the series was already over. I just didn't want it to end on my watch. I shouldn't be into consolation prizes.

But I was young. And I can't stand New York sports fans.

All I wanted was to not witness the Caps' elimination. To not have to deal with New Yorkers being New Yorkers.

To provide them with a little unhappiness and me with a peaceful ride home.

Showing a somewhat surprising refusal to die, the Caps actually came to play that night.

For some reason I remember the Caps only allowing a goal en route to a near shutout.

Todd Krygier had 2 goals for DC.  Joe Juneau one goal.  Jason Woolley the other.

In reality, the final was 4 to 2 in favor of the Caps.  Regardless, the Caps won and it wasn't really close.

I had earned a temporary reprieve and that peaceful ride home I so desired.

A lot of Caps fans chanted the then-popular "19-40!" in response to winning the game.

Probably a bit over the top for a fan base that was still 1 game away from elimination and had no control over the series.

But that was indeed the last time the Rangers had won the Stanley Cup at the time and I guess you have to celebrate the victories in life, right?

Well, in a "brought to you by 'touche'" moment - some Rangers fans responded with "19-Never" on the way out of the arena.

Clever, I'll give them that.

What pains me is that one of those chants quickly became outdated and the other one is still current.

See, it was two nights later in New York when reality would set in. There would be no precursor to the 2010 Flyers comeback over Boston.

The Rangers took Game 5 at home and finished off the Caps.

And as any Rangers fan will tell you - and tell you again - two rounds later they were Stanley Cup champions for the first time in 54 years.

"Matteau!  Matteau!"  quickly turned into "And this one will last a lifetime!" as they took a dramatic 7-game series against the Devils and then another 7-game series against the Canucks.

Not to beat a dead horse, but those two Game 7 home wins are the same number the Caps have in franchise history........


Fast forward about 7 years.  It was January 2001.  I had just gotten back from a semester abroad in the Netherlands.  I was on my winter break for a few weeks before needing to return to college.

My friend from New York invited me up to see a Rangers game.  The train from DC to NY as many of you know is extremely efficient, so I figured why not?

We saw a Saturday afternoon matinĂ©e between the Rangers and Devils.  That is fitting.  If you are going to catch a game at Madison Square Garden, it would make no sense if it was against the San Jose Sharks.

Might as well be a nearby rival.  And thanks to the fact that MSG is right on top of a train station, it made getting to the game very easy for me.

I just hopped on at Union Station-DC that morning.  And an hour before game time I was at MSG.  Perfect.

The game was wild.  Jan Hlavac had a hat-trick for the Rags.  Some guy named Theo Fleury scored for them too.  Former Capital Scott Stevens played for the Devils - as did current Capital Jason Arnott.

My friend explained to me that every Rangers fan thought some guy named Valeri Kamensky was a waste of space.  And well, they let him know it often.  That was his last season as a Ranger to say the least.

The Rangers were up 5 to 4, but gave up a goal in the final 90 seconds or so of regulation.  Gasp!  The game ended in a 5 to 5 tie!  Remember those?

I just remember MSG being loud.  A fun place to watch a hockey game.  For some reason all of the thick New York accents are a lot easier to stomach when the Rangers aren't playing your team.

That evening I wanted to do something touristy.  As I said earlier, I had just returned from Europe and was in sightseeing mode.

Throughout my youth I made annual trips to New York City to visit family.  But I never did anything touristy.

And of all places, my friend and I chose to go to the top of the World Trade Center.

I will never forget how frickin' scary it was to be on the roof of one of the Twin Towers.

That feeling is attached at the hip to my memory of the only time I've seen a hockey game at MSG.

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