Just because you root for a team doesn't necessarily mean you actually like them. Of course, you want that team to win every game, and you don't switch allegiances willy-nilly, but that version of the franchise may be filled with unlikable guys, guys you can't help booing, guys you'd like shipped out of town or Wade Redden. But when you have an edition of your favorite team that is finally the one you've been longing to root for, as a fan, you've hit the jackpot. And that's what the New York Rangers have now -- the Blueshirts squad we've fallen head over heels in love with. They've swept us off our feet.
There has always been just a little something wrong with the Rangers, no matter how successful they were (or how awful). Going back to the early to mid 1970s, though that team was one of the powerhouses of the league, they just couldn't get over the hump and win a championship. They weren't quite tough enough. They couldn't win the big game when they needed to. When they finally slayed one dragon (Bobby Orr), they were unceremoniously upset by a lesser Chicago Blackhawks team. It was always something. The 1979 underdogs were one for the ages, and a fun team to root for, but they were in over their heads once they got to Montreal, and were a one a done squad for the most part.
Even when the Blueshirts won the Stanley Cup that would last a lifetime -- with all due respect -- half the roster was imported from Edmonton: Mark Messier, Adam Graves, Kevin Lowe, Glenn Anderson, Craig MacTavish, Esa Tikkanen. Sure, there have been plenty of New York legends that came from elsewhere (Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson, Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter, Earl Monroe), not to mention finals MVPs (Butch Goring, O.J. Anderson, Donn Clendenon, Ray Knight), but there's something about a mainly homegrown team that makes things just a little more special.
And one of the main components of this year's Rangers roster that we admire (and always want) is the homegrown aspect they have going for them. And in the first two rounds of the playoffs, the Rangers have been homegrown-ing us to death -- if it's not Marc Staal or Dan Girardi scoring key goals or making crucial plays, it's Henrik Lundqvist saving the day or Ryan Callahan being Ryan Callahan or Derek Stepan making Wayne Gretzky-like passes or even Chris Kreider, for Pete's sake, netting game-winning goals. And let's not forget Artem Anisimov and Brandon Dubinsky and Carl Hagelin and Michael Del Zotto.
The New York Mets recently fielded a starting nine of players who all came up through the Met system, which hadn't happened for them since a September game in 1971. The Mets, of course, are hoping they can be on the same path to success that the Rangers took, but "homegrown" doesn't always lead to a championship, as there can be busts and flameouts bunched in with some realized talent. And that '71 Met lineup (Jerry Koosman, Duffy Dyer, Ed Kranepool, Teddy Martinez, Bud Harrelson, Tim Foli, John Milner, Mike Jorgensen, Ken Singleton) didn't exactly turn into a World Series winner. And they traded the best position player on the field that day (Singleton) before the next season began. But the Rangers have it figured out. Their players are growing and succeeding before our eyes, and playing with a winning approach and attitude, and more (Kreider) keep being added to the mix. And Glen Sather hasn't been trading them away, and even his two big free agent acquisitions have fit right into the team concept.
We've sat through the Stephane Quintals, the Theo Fleurys, the Sylvain Lefebvres, the Eric Lindros's, the Tom Poti's, the Wade Reddens, the Scott Gomez's, the Nikolai Zherdev's, with an occasional glimmer of hope in a Mike York thrown in here or there. But, finally, this version of the Rangers is THE team. They're blue collar, which we love. They're tough, which we love. They have a relentless work ethic, which we love. They're homegrown, which we love. They have nobody to boo, which we love. They do everything the right way, which we love. This is it. This is the one. Finally.