At the end of regulation time, the command passed through the line outside the men’s room in the northern tier of the World’s Most Famous Arena: “Don’t wash your hands. Bad luck.” Lo and behold, nary a one of the New York Ranger faithful who emptied their beery bladders dared to tempt fate. Their hygienic trespass clearly paid off eight minutes into overtime when Derek Stepan finally slipped the puck past a diving Braden Holtby for a 2-1 seventh game clincher for the ages. The winning shot sent New York into the Eastern Conference finals and the Garden into bedlam.
Earlier in the night, everyone knew this was going to be a good one — conversations were laced with quiet but anxious optimism. Anything can happen in a seventh game. All six of the other matches had been decided by one goal. The goalies were outstanding. But Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers had been unbeatable at home in seventh games.
“They’ll be ok,” Boomer Esiason said on his morning radio show when they fell behind 3 games to 1. “They’ll be ok.”
Esiason likes the spirit on this team and there is something very stubborn, very New York about this squad. No superstars except for their all-galaxy goalie. Resilient, tough, workmanlike. Nothing too fancy. And with a growing ‘Team of Destiny’ feeling. Backs against the wall, they find a way.
“I’ll take 5-0 in a heartbeat,” said a Lundqvist jersey. “Me too," said a Nash. Not to be. Nail-biter, it was.
The crowd got ugly early with chants of “OV Sucks” a dig at the Capital’s villain from central casting, the talented Russian Alex Ovechkin who had guaranteed a win in the Ranger citadel. The derision rang hollow when Ovechkin drew first blood, beating Lundqvist in a breakaway at 12:50 of the opening period. The fans more sweetly serenaded their beloved goalie with roars of “Hen-Rik” Hen-rik” after many of his 36 saves. But the real music was in the fans’ heads. Game Sevens are High Anxiety. There really is no tomorrow.
When the game went into sudden death/life overtime, the experience at the Garden was like being in a collective sex act with two distinct possibilities —the sudden orgiastic release of joy, or the failure of release and hope for a better next time. Each could be imagined, almost experienced. Almost there. On the ice it was nip and tuck, back and forth, up and down. At 11:24, the Ranger tribe came together. It was a beautiful thing.
Into the night on Seventh Avenue, “We want the Cup. We want the Cup,” chants rang from the street down to the LIRR platforms. Somewhere Cablevision’s James Dolan was smiling, and it wasn't for any particularly evil reason. After a dreadful football and basketball season in NYC and the baseball season just begun, the Rangers own the town.
Photos by Julie Jacobson/AP Images