Yes, it's hard to think of the New York Rangers as the "little engine that could." The big-city, big-spending, Big Apple, City That Never Sleeps Rangers--you know, the team that traded for Eric Lindros, Jaromir Jagr and Mark Messier and signed Theo Fleury, Wayne Gretzky and Wade Redden (all ending with various results)--have become the blue-collar, hard-working, rebuilding, overachieving Rangers. After last year's heartbreaking shootout loss to the Flyers, which doomed their season, the Blueshirts were on the other end of the miracle this year, with their clutch victory over the New Jersey Devils on Saturday paired with the Tampa Bay Lightning's altruistic win over the Carolina Hurricanes later that night sealing the last spot in the Eastern Conference.
But let's face it, these Blueshirts are a young team that is an eighth seed. They're no powerhouse, and they're huge underdogs in the opening series with the Washington Capitals. That being said, all the pressure is on the Caps to finally hoist the Stanley Cup after falling short year after year. And the Rangers can play the role of "the dangerous team lurking in the shadows that nobody wants to play." Once you're in the postseason anything can happen, of course. The marquee matchup will be Alex Ovechkin taking on his shadow, Marc Staal, but if the Rangers stick to their regular-season script of playing smart, tough, team-first hockey, and hope they can get enough scoring, they have a chance to topple Washington.
The season begins anew, and it's a chance for Marian Gaborik to redeem himself after his subpar season. It's a chance for Chris Drury to fill Ryan Callahan's shoes as the inspirational leader and to earn his Captain Clutch nickname once and for all as a Ranger. It's a chance for Henrik Lundqvist to get hot and have his team ride the wave through the playoffs as we've seen so many other goalies do over the years. It's a chance to exact revenge on the Capitals for beating the Rangers in 2009 after the Blueshirts were up three games to one. It's a chance for all the youngsters littering the Rangers' roster to gain valuable playoff experience. And it's a chance for the Rangers to bask and thrive in the underdog role and possibly follow in the footsteps of their 1979 forefathers or (hey, we can dream) even the 1969 Miracle Mets (ok, maybe I'm getting carried away).
As for the New York Knicks, usually when a team trades for a star they're going for broke and all out to win it all that season, but the Carmelo Anthony trade was the rare case of acquiring a star to set up pieces for the future. The Knicks have two superstars, along with the playoff-tested Chauncey Billups, but like the Rangers they'll be the underdog when they take on the Boston Celtics, and they'll need to bulldog it like the Rangers, and out-play, out-defend and out-hustle their opponent, which will, of course, be a difficult task, for the Celts' stock in trade is toughness and team-first play.
Like the Capitals, all the pressure will be on Boston, who will try to prove that they didn't make a big mistake at this year's trade deadline. But this postseason will be a chance for Amar'e Stoudemire to continue his leadership and the great job he's done resurrecting the franchise. It will be a chance for Anthony to shine in the New York and national spotlight, and prove that's he's more about team than his own numbers. It will be a chance for Billups to have one last postseason hurrah (well, there might be a next year, too). It will be a chance for the young guys like Landry Fields and Toney Douglas to get their feet wet and get their first taste of playoff basketball. But more importantly, it will be a chance for the Knick franchise to remember what it's like being in the playoffs once again after all these years.
Neither the Rangers nor the Knicks were shoe-ins for the postseason when the preseason prognostications came rolling in last fall. And not much is expected of them now as the playoffs begin. So the postseason is gravy for both franchises. They're playing with house money. But the thing about any sport is, you never know what will happen. Any team can surprise and go on a Cinderella run. And maybe, just maybe, we'll have two New York teams going on a magic carpet ride over the next couple of months. That may be far-fetched, but at least both the Rangers and Knicks find themselves in a position to dream the ultimate dream. And that hasn't happened around here in a very long time.