There are two things we absolutely know about the New York Rangers that are timeless and immutable.
One, their blue uniforms with the white shadowing and the diagonal “R A N G E R S” from right shoulder to left belt level is one of the great pieces of team shmata ever devised by man. Indeed, they ought to bring back the olde-timey white “N E W Y O R K” roadies as well, if they care about their dignity on any level.
And two, despite winning Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final 6-2 over Tampa Bay, they will somehow bollix up their Stanley Cup run with some serious deteriorata between now and the presentation of the big beer cooler. It’s who they are, and it’s what they do. Every 10 presidents or so, they win the Cup, and between those two poles their fans pretend that this is the year in the same way that high schoolers pretend that their prom will be anything other than a night of dance turndowns, lost wallets, and 4:00 a.m. calls to Dad from the cop house.
Yet after one game of the Eastern Conference final, which is your standard microscopic snapshot for this sort of thing, the Rangers look younger, sprightlier, jumpier, and less aware of their history than they have in years. In mauling the older, more staid and very much more resume-laden Tampa Bay Lightning Wednesday, the Rangers’ six goals looked like they were invented as brilliant improvisational pieces while Tampa looked tardier, more leaden, and very much like the team that has had its time.
In other words, hello Filip Chytil.
Chytil has been on a bit of a bender of late, and his two goals on the only two shots he managed to put on net turned a taut early game into the makings of the rout it eventually became. He is part of a young New York team that is led by 30-year-old Chris Kreider and 28-year-old Mika Zibanejad, but powered by a fleet of younger and more dynamic associates, like Chytil, Alexis Lafreniere, Kappo Kakko, Adam Fox and K’Andre Miller. They also have garage wall Igor Shesterkin in goal and the charcoal starter-faced head coach Gerard Gallant, both of which beat having your car repo’d, and they are as deep as any Ranger team since Stephane Matteau made Howie Rose’s career 28 years ago.
Now the trick here is to watch Wednesday’s game and see how much livelier the Rangers were than the ‘Ning, and then still find the way that New York blows the gaff and loses. And all you’ve got right now is that tired old snail trail, “Well, they’re the Rangers. They’re the Knicks, only they dress better.”
Well, they probably still are because Game 1 of the conference finals is always the game in which the older team suddenly discovers how much legs can weigh. Tampa had eight days off after beating Florida like roadside diner eggs and the ‘Ning looked too well-rested for their own good. The Rangers got huge mileage from their derivatively named Kid Line of Chytil, Kakko, and Lafreniere, and reminded Tampa that its trips to the Final were never as easy as they seem in the rear view mirror.
In short, the Rangers exposed the slightly less extraordinary Andrei Vasilevskiy as merely a good goalie while they hold the deed to the best one. None of this guarantees that the rest of the series plays out this way, because Tampa has skate sharpeners older than Lafreniere and more available consonants than the Rangers, plus they have Brayden Point in reserve. One does not count out a two-time champion without more evidence than this.
Still, don’t the Rangers looked sharp? Until they prove otherwise, that’s still the thing they do best.