I don't want to jinx either team, but this could be the year that the Madison Square Garden duo finally makes the playoffs in the same season since 1997. The New York Knicks and New York Rangers are both having successful seasons, both exceeding expectations. No one could have imagined the Knicks having the record they have at this point in the season. While the Rangers are probably where people expected them, though they're maybe a tad better than was thought, with young guys like Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan and Derek Stepan excelling, though they'll have to do without Callahan for a while, unfortunately.
The last time these two teams qualified for the postseason together was 14 years ago. It was so long ago that it was in a whole different century. The Knicks, with a lineup of Patrick Ewing, Allan Houston, John Starks, and Charles Oakley, made it to the Eastern Conference Semifinals, where they lost to Miami in seven games. They were leading three games to one, when a giant brawl broke out (on orders from Pat Riley?) in game five, and the Heat went on to win the series. It was not the Jeff-Van-Gundy-hanging-onto-Alonzo-Mourning's-legs brouhaha, though, as that would come the following season.
The Rangers were one step away from playing for the Stanley Cup, but fell to the Flyers in the Eastern Conference Finals. It was the one season with Mark Messier and Wayne Gretzky together on the Blueshirts. They still had Brian Leetch, Mike Richter, Adam Graves, Esa Tikkanen and Jeff Beukeboom left over from the 1994 Cup-winning squad. But they were one step behind and a little too old to climb to the top that year.
Who knew it would go completely downhill from there, and we'd be at 14 years and counting? Of course, James Dolan had a big hand in the feebleness that would ensue. Ewing, Houston, Gretzky, Messier? It was a lifetime ago. Hopefully this will be the year there will be springtime magic at the Garden once again.
And now on to the top stories of the week in the world of New York sports.
Prelude to the Showdown for First Place: After their tour of Newark, Kansas City and Detroit, the New York Giants finally found a place to play, and they took care of business, easily defeating the Minnesota Vikings. Why couldn't they have played in the Twins' new stadium and make it like one of those NHL winter classics? Brett Favre's iron-man streak ended, but I could have sworn I saw him out there when Eli Manning was throwing all those picks at the beginning of the game. Manning, himself, played in his 100th consecutive game, making it the most miraculous Giant streak since , Kent Graham and Danny Kanell were allowed to play quarterback for the team in too many games in a row. And when Tom Coughlin foolishly wasted a challenge early in the game, wasn't that Rex Ryan I was seeing? The showed Ryan the true meaning of ground and pound, with Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw being the keys to the team's victory, with Jacobs' 73-yard ramble changing the whole complexion of the game. The defense stopped Adrian Peterson cold, and they never gave Tavaris Jackson a chance. Next up is the Eagles for the battle for first place, but they'll have to do it without Steve Smith, who's out for the season. Hopefully the Giants will do a better job than the Jets in their version of the Game of the Century.
The Swagger Is Wilting: Not since the 1978 Gator Bowl, when Clemson defensive lineman Charlie Bauman intercepted an Art Schlichter pass, was forced out of bounds and Ohio State coach Woody Hayes punched him in the throat, have we seen an incident like the Sal Alosi fiasco. It's another case of swagger gone wrong. And now we all wonder, did Alosi act alone? Was there a second tripper on the grassy knoll? Was the trip ordered from above? As for the team, it's uh-oh time for the New York Jets. The offense has produced three field goals in the last two games. What happened to the maturing, clutch Mark Sanchez? He looks like he's never even played football before. And the dropped passes by the receivers are back, which are not helping Sanchez any. But every football team has its ups and downs, so there's no doubt the Jets can recover from the last two games. Remember a couple of weeks ago when the Jets were on top of the world and the Giants were all washed up? It's a topsy-turvy world in the NFL.
The Garden of Dreams: It was test week for the Knicks and Rangers the past seven days. The Knicks warmed up by beating Washington on Friday, 101-95, and then the real competiton came to town with the Nuggets and Celtics. The Knicks passed their first test, by defeating Denver ,129-125, on Sunday, for their eighth consecutive win. It was also the eighth straight game that Amar'e Stoudemire broke the 30-point barrier, smashing the franchise record. And on Wednesday, in the biggest basketball game around these parts in ages, the Knicks came within half a second of beating Boston. It was a heartbreaker, but it was also one of those times when losing actually feels like winning. And one thing we learned this week: It's Amar'e Stoudemire's town now and we just live in it. As for their on-ice brethren, the Rangers opened the week with a loss to Columbus thanks to a softie that got by Henrik Lundqvist. But the Rangers aced a test of their own, by defeating the darlings of the NHL and Versus, the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins. And they whipped them by a combined score of 11-1. They completely pummeled the Caps, with the King recording a shutout, while Brandon Dubinsky punched out Alex Ovechkin, and then they shocked the Penguins with four quick goals in the third period to win, 4-1. How did the NHL let that happen? The Rangers are probably in trouble with the league now. And they capped off their week by beating a pretty good Phoenix Coyotes team, 4-3, and doing it with their usual grit and resilience.
Making Way For Carmelo: The New Jersey Nets traded Terrence Williams and Joe Smith and received the Lakers' 2011 first-round pick and Houston's 2012 first-round pick, along with Sasha Vujacic, in return. They're obviously getting everything in place to make a big run at Carmelo Anthony. But what if Anthony surprises everybody and chooses to go to the Phillies a la Cliff Lee? Damion James is out with a broken foot, but the Nets finally won a game this week, defeating the Washington Wizards. It may have been ugly, but a win's a win when you only have seven of them.
The Quebec Islanders? Over a thousand Quebec Nordiques fans invaded Long Island in an attempt to steal the New York Islanders away from New York. Tanks and planes were brought in, and after a three-day battle, the Canucks retreated back to Canada. On Saturday, Rick DiPietro had a hard time paying attention, as the go-ahead goal in the Isles' game with the Atlanta Thrashers was scored while the goalie was daydreaming about going back on inured reserve. They lost to Nashville on Monday, but they notched their first win of December on Thursday with a 3-2 victory over Anaheim.
The Beginning of the End or the Beginning of the Beginning? The New Jersey Devils placed Brian Rolston on waivers this week, which he cleared, and he was back playing for the team. Was this the first move in dismantling this disaster of a team? They need to get on a big winning streak in order to salvage anything out of this season, but you actually have to win a game first to start a winning streak. And they finally did that, by defeating the Phoenix Coyotes on Wednesday. Martin Brodeur returned on Friday, which can only help New Jersey, and Ilya Kovalchuk actually scored two goals in the same game in Wednesday's win. Is this a blip on the radar screen or the beginning of something good?
Lee-less: It doesn't happen very often that a player turns down the New York Yankees' endless supply of money, but Cliff Lee did just that, taking fewer years and fewer dollars to go to a place he's more comfortable. He must really hate New York, though, as he screwed over both New York teams. At least he didn't announce his decision in a made-for-TV special. The Bombers did sign catcher Russell Martin. Though he's only 27, he's had two declining, injury-filled years and counting, but it gives them some veteran insurance behind the plate. And the Kerry Wood thing worked out so well for the Yankees last year that they'll try it again with another former Cub phenom, as they signed Mark Prior to a minor league contract. As for the Mets, they may not have any new players next year, but the coaching staff will have a new look, with the additions of Ken Oberkfell, Dave Hudgens, John Debus and--yes!--Mookie Wilson is back.
(For in-depth analysis and discussion of the Jets, Giants, Yankees, Mets, Knicks, Nets, Rangers, Islanders and Devils, go to SB Nation's Gang Green Nation, Big Blue View, Pinstripe Alley, Amazin' Avenue, Posting and Toasting, NetsDaily, Blueshirt Banter, Lighthouse Hockey and In Lou We Trust, respectively.)