5 Most Memorable Rangers Playoffs Series this Decade

2014 Stanley Cup Final, Henrik Lundqvist, Long Read, Martin St. Louis, Rangers History

The 2010s are coming to a close in a matter of weeks. During these last 10 years, we have seen some pretty exciting playoff series with the New York Rangers. There were a lot of highs and lows as the Rangers became a regular participant in the Spring action. We will be diving into the top five greatest playoff series of the past decade for our beloved Blueshirts. So sit back, relax and let’s reminisce about some of the recent postseason moments.

2012: Rangers Finally Get Revenge on Caps

The 2011-12 regular season for the Rangers was a very special one for the organization. They possessed the best record in the Eastern Conference with 109 points and the soon to be Vezina Trophy winner in Henrik Lundqvist on their side. New York also had one of the best defenses in the league that year with guys like Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi, Marc Staal, and Anton Stralman at the back end. The Blueshirts looked poised to make a deep Cup run that spring and possibly bring home their first championship since 1994.

Henrik Lundqvist New York Rangers
Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

After a hard-fought seven games against the Ottawa Senators in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, the Rangers were due to meet up with the Washington Capitals in the next round. New York had failed to defeat Washington in their previous two postseason meetings in 2009 and 2011 so there was apprehension among some fans. The Capitals had just pulled off an improbable upset against the then-defending Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins. They had a lot of momentum heading into this series ready to upset the Rangers next.

The series was an intense and physical one from the start with momentum constantly changing possession. New York would take Game 1, followed by a 3-2 victory for the Caps in Game 2. Game 3 was extremely intense as the two squads battled it out for almost two games worth in one night. The game was tied 2-2 and a third overtime was necessary before Marian Gaborik broke through for the Rangers and buried a goal to give his team a 2-1 series lead. Washington would not go away though and they tied up the series with a 3-2 regulation win in Game 4.

Marian Gaborik Rangers
Marian Gaborik Clicking with Rangers linemates (Icon SMI)

Then the most memorable game, in my opinion, came on May 7, 2012. It was a pivotal moment in the series. The winner would be one win away from moving on to the next round, where the loser would have to dig themselves out of a 3-2 series hole. The Capitals would grab a 2-1 lead and were just seconds away from taking Game 5. Then a costly high-sticking penalty by Joel Ward occurred with 21.3 seconds remaining in the game to give the Rangers one more opportunity. New York would not miss, as Brad Richards buried a loose puck past rookie goaltender Braden Holtby to tie the game at two. Then Marc Staal pulled through in overtime to give the Rangers a 3-2 series lead.

Brad Richards Rangers
Brad Richards (Geoff Burke-US PRESSWIRE)

The Blueshirts would then go on to win the series in seven games, but had it not been for those critical goals scored by Gaborik, Richards, and Staal, we might not be talking about this series as much as we currently are. It was a sweet revenge series for the Rangers against Washington as they had not defeated them in a best-of-seven series since 1994. To this day, Brad Richards’ goal remains burned into my memory as I hopped off my living room couch in sheer joy to see that there was still hope to the series. It is one of the best playoff moments that I have witnessed while watching my beloved Blueshirts.

2014: Blueshirts Rally Behind Marty St. Louis Against Pens

The 2014 Playoffs for the Rangers were a pretty magical and emotional one for their fans. New York kicked off their playoff run against an old-time rival in the Philadelphia Flyers. They battled hard and managed to survive this intense series in seven grueling games during the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Penguins had a near scare against the pesky Columbus Blue Jackets. They were in a 2-2 series tie before their elite talent stepped up in Games 5 and 6 to pull them out of this fix. The Rangers and Penguins were scheduled to meet in the Eastern Conference Semifinals next.

Martin St. Louis (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Game 1 of this series got off to a thrilling start as it went to overtime tied at two. Derrick Brassard came up big for the Rangers as he buried a goal 3:06 into the first overtime period to give his squad a 1-0 series lead. The Rangers were feeling good about their chances in this series and exacting their vengeance on Pittsburgh after the last time these two teams met in the 2008 playoffs.

Unfortunately, the Rangers hit a bit of a snag in the preceding three games as they lost them all. Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury looking virtually impenetrable as he allowed only a pair of goals in this three-game stretch. The Rangers looked dead in the water and it was only a matter of time as to when another successful regular season would turn to waste by a disappointing playoff run.

Shortly after their bitter Game 4 loss, forward Marty St. Louis’ mother passed away just days before Game 5. A heartbroken St. Louis forged on in spite of the loss of his beloved mother and decided to suit up in her honor for this win-or-go-home game. The stakes could not have been any higher and the Rangers rallied behind their fallen teammate. New York showed some grit and scored five goals to force a Game 6 at Madison Square Garden on Mother’s Day.

On that day, the Rangers carried their momentum into the game and fought tooth and nail to win one for Marty. What made it even more special was St. Louis even came up clutch with a goal 3:24 into the first period to give New York a 1-0 lead. An emotional St. Louis was mobbed by his Blueshirt brethren as they knew that goal had a very touching meaning to it.

The Rangers went on to win that game 3-1 and a high-anxiety Game 7, 2-1 victory shortly followed to allow them to advance to the Eastern Conference Final. New York had completed the comeback. It was done. They had proven to the rest of the hockey community that they were not the same push-overs from years past. Something truly magical had occurred in that series. Of course, it is sad to say that a tragedy had to occur to spur on this great rally, but I do strongly believe it was a catalyst that lit a fire under them to show some heart. Still watching highlights, especially from that emotional Game 6 at the Garden gives me chills every time.

2014: Blueshirts Finally Make it to the Big Dance

Continuing from that 2014 postseason, the Rangers were riding pretty high after their rollercoaster series against Pittsburgh. Now New York was heading on a collision course with the Montreal Canadiens for the Eastern Conference Final. New York was recently in the Eastern Conference Final just two years prior when they faced off against their cross-river rivals in the New Jersey Devils. As we all know, that series ended in heartbreak for the Rangers as Adam Henrique netted a double-overtime goal in Game 6 to send New Jersey to the Stanley Cup Final.

Rangers after winning the Eastern Conference in 2014 (Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports)

The Rangers were looking for some much-needed redemption this time around. This was their chance to finally take that next step and assert themselves around the league. Despite not having an elite goalie in Carey Price for much of the series thanks to Chris Kreider (sorry about that Canadiens fans), Montreal put up quite a fight. They fought the Rangers every which way and nearly pushed them to the limits in six intense games.

The Canadiens got a little bit of revenge for the hit by Kreider on Price as former Ranger Brandon Prust leveled Derek Stepan in Game 3 resulting in a broken jaw. Though the refs did not call the interference penalty, Prust was suspended by the league for the following two games for his misconduct. The stage was set for a bumpy ride after the Rangers took Games 1 and 2, while Montreal won Game 3 in overtime 3-2.

There were two games in that series that really stuck out to me the most. The first is Game 4. The game was a nail-biter from the start as teams exchanged a pair of goals in regulation time. As usual, in most playoff games, it would require more than 60 minutes to determine a winner. St. Louis eventually would be the hero as he swooped in from the right face-off circle on a mini breakaway to defeat Dustin Tokarski top-shelf. The entire Garden exploded with enthusiasm as the Rangers were now just one win away from advancing to the Stanley Cup Final since 1994.

Brendan Gallagher, Montreal Canadiens, NHL, Hockey
Brendan Gallagher is a gritty, small forward – but a game changer in front of the net. (Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports)

Montreal was not done yet as they scored seven goals at home to force a Game 6 at the Garden. The scene at the Garden on May 29, 2014, was one for the ages. A sea of blue filled the stands as the fans waited in anticipation to celebrate the team’s first Eastern Conference Championship in 20 years. Henrik Lundqvist was the star of that contest as he pitched a perfect shutout to get the Rangers to the Cup Final.

The most iconic save he made in that phenomenal performance came towards the end of the second period as Tomas Vanek was robbed of a golden opportunity to break the scoreless tie. The whole stadium held their breaths for just a moment fearing the worst, but then the place erupted with cheers and applause as they saw Lundqvist make an incredible waffle board save to preserve the score. Chants of Henrik shortly ensued as the fans showed their gratitude for their legendary goalie’s heroic efforts.

Then Dominic Moore scored the biggest goal of his career just three minutes later as teammate Brian Boyle found him all alone in the high slot. Moore would not miss and buried the eventual game-winning goal. After a nerve-wracking third period, the Rangers successfully closed out the series and were crowned the 2014 Eastern Conference Champions! The Garden was deafening as fans all around were shouting “1994” and “We Want the Cup.”

For the first time in 20 long years, the Rangers were heading to the Stanley Cup Final. They just had one more hill to climb and it would be the winner of the Los Angeles Kings/Chicago Blackhawks series out west. That was the furthest from Rangers’ fan’s minds as they were just happy to finally be back in the spotlight.

2014: A Royal Final

After a dramatic Game 6 win against the Montreal Canadiens, the Rangers and their fans had to patiently await their final opponent for the 2014 playoffs. It was a grueling 20 games to get to this point, but they could see a small glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel as they knew they were just four wins away from accomplishing their dream. Eventually, their opponent was determined. The Kings won a thrilling Game 7 against the defending Stanley Cup champions, the Blackhawks on June 1, 2014. The Final from that year would feature King Henrik and the Blueshirts taking on the Kings. Which royal power would prevail?

Rangers and Kings in the 2014 Stanley Cup Final (Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

Game 1 would commence a few days later in Los Angeles as the two teams squared off for all the marbles. The Kings were having a magical run of their own as they played three straight seven-game series. One of those series involved a reverse sweep against the San Jose Sharks in the first round of the playoffs which fueled their run moving forward. The Rangers had their hands full and while the Kings wound up winning it all in five games, it was much closer than it appeared on paper.

In fact, three of those five games went to overtime and two of them were double. Game 5 stood out the most to me. Maybe because it was the final game of the series, or maybe it was because the Rangers had two wonderful chances to win it before the dreadful goal by Alec Martinez. Either way, to me that was the game I remember the most.

I will be honest, I did not get to see most of the game that night because it was the night of my high school prom. I recall saying to myself, “Please let them win. Please let them win so I can have a chance to see them at least one last time for a Game 6 when I’m home”. Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be, but I still followed them intently the entire evening while I was out with my friends.

I was quite excited when I saw my beloved team jump out to a 2-1 lead, but I also felt wary. A similar thing had happened in Games 1 and 2 where the Rangers got out to a 2-0 lead and eventually lost them both in overtime. So I was well aware of what could happen. The Kings were known for their comebacks in those playoffs, and I learned that no lead was considered safe. Sure enough, as I had feared a former Ranger in Gaborik came in and scored a goal to tie the game at two 7:56 into the third period.

The game was forced into overtime as I tried to remain optimistic that the Rangers would pull through this time around. I remember driving home listening to the sports radio with my friends as the first overtime period was underway. My heart was racing and could barely bring myself to listen to the broadcast. Then Ryan McDonagh almost made me a very happy kid as he rang one off the pipe passed Jonathan Quick.

Finally, I got home just in time to catch the final minutes of the game. I was able to see when Rick Nash whiffed on a puck with a yawning cage just staring him right in the face! I was on edge, palms sweating and not daring to take my eyes off the screen for a second. Then it happened. Martinez came in to bury a rebound from a save made by Lundqvist on a three on two.

Alec Martinez Kings
Alec Martinez scored the Cup-winning goal in 2014 (Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)

As I saw the puck hit the back of the net, my heart sank. My head dropped and I fell on my knees. It was over. That magical run over. I felt like crying. I felt like hitting something out of frustration. It wasn’t fair! How could this happen! It was like what St. Louis said, it’s our turn! Not their turn! They had their fun two years ago against New Jersey! But there was nothing that could be done.

The Kings proved they were the better team and they earned it. They fought hard and looking back on it I really respect and admire what they were able to accomplish. It breaks my heart to see Lundqvist laying flat on the ice in defeat. I think he knew as a lot of fans, that a wonderful opportunity was lost and now they were going to have to start all over again.

So while it was a sad ending to a great run, I will say that it was a terrific series. The fans really got their money’s worth in those five games they attended. This series will be remembered for years to come as both teams battled hard. They each had very special games throughout their runs to the finals, but the Kings had the edge.

Usually, the losing team in a championship game or series gets forgotten sometimes, so it’s important not to forget what the Rangers accomplished in 2014. They brought a lot of joy and hope to the city of New York that year. It certainly would not be forgotten by the fan base despite the end result. I had a lot of fun watching them playing on national television for the ultimate prize in hockey and it truly was entertaining.

2015: A Series to Remember

Finally, the last series that stands out in my mind in the past decade with the Rangers is the 2015 Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Washington Capitals. Since 2009, the Capitals and Rangers had developed quite an interesting rivalry with each other. In that span, these two squads have squared off four times in the playoffs. So 2015 would make it the fifth meeting in seven years with the first two going to Washington and the last two going to New York.

The Rangers were coming off an impressive Stanley Cup run just the year before while the Capitals missed the postseason for the first time in six years. New York was on a mission in 2015 to finish what they started as they completed the regular season with 113 points and the Presidents’ Trophy. Washington had a bounce-back year themselves and they were motivated to prove that their down year in 2014 was just a fluke.

Rangers and Capitals in the 2015 Eastern Conference Semi-finals (Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports)

The Rangers got through the first round of the playoffs without many complications as they defeated a struggling Penguins group in five games. The Caps, on the other hand, had a difficult time getting out of the first round against the New York Islanders. Washington would prevail in that series, but not before the Islanders gave them a run for their money and battled all the way to seven games. At any rate, Washington and the Blueshirts were set to meet in the second round of the playoffs to break the tie in their recent postseason clashes.

The series was competitive as many expected. Both teams exchanged wins in Games 1 and 2 as the series headed back to Washington for Game 3. Then the series took an ugly turn for New York as the Caps won the next two games to take a 3-1 series lead. The Rangers found themselves in familiar territory. They were in a similar position as they had been the year before against Pittsburgh in the second round. A lot of the players on the 2015 roster experienced this rather recently so they did not waver in their confidence. Some Rangers fans like myself felt differently though and the anxiety we were going through was pretty high considering they had the best record in the NHL.

Game 5 came and seemed pretty bleak with the final minute approaching after a goal by Curtis Glencross was scored midway into the third period. When all hope seemed to be lost, Chris Kreider stepped up and delivered with a goal to knot the game at one apiece. The Rangers had forced overtime to keep their season alive for now, but it was far from over. We all know that anything could happen and the Capitals were more than capable of striking in overtime to crush whatever hopes remained for the Rangers.

Luckily, McDonagh came up with a huge goal in overtime to send them to a 2-1 victory. They would survive to live another day and would have to prepare for Game 6 in the Nation’s Capital. The sixth game of the series was quite entertaining with a lot of goals scored by both sides. Despite jumping out to an early 2-0 lead, Washington fought back to make it interesting but the Rangers held on for dear life to win 4-3.

The stage was set for the greatest words to say in sports: Game 7. What better way than to conclude this series with a climactic elimination contest between two bitter rivals? Alex Ovechkin got the scoring started to get the Capitals on the board 12:50 into the first period. The captain of the Caps guaranteed a Game 7 victory and he backed it up with a goal for his squad.

The Rangers wouldn’t go away though. Kevin Hayes injected more hope into the Blueshirt faithful with a power-play goal 6:22 into the second period. Once again, these two teams were in a deadlock. What was it going to take to finally determine a winner in this series? Obviously, 60 minutes wouldn’t suffice, so overtime would be necessary.

capitals stanley cup
Ovechkin and Lundqvist shake hands in the postseason. (Photo by Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports)

As overtime commenced, both fanbases were on edge as their team’s seasons hung in the balance. Chance after chance came as both sides had opportunities to put the game away. Then finally a face-off occurred on the right side of Holtby. Off the tie-up, the Rangers were able to send the puck back to Dan Girardi as he blasted a shot from the point towards the net. Holtby came up with a save but let up a huge rebound out front to Derek Stepan as he buried it to put an end to the drama.

Another magical Garden moment transpired as the entire Rangers’ bench jumped up and mobbed their hero. On the other side, Ovechkin was seen with his head down in defeat as yet another season would end in disappointment for him and his mates.

The Rangers were heading off to the Eastern Conference Final to take on the Tampa Bay Lightning. Their mission was still on as they looked to complete some unfinished business. While we all know that the Rangers failed to succeed in their 2015 playoff endeavors, this was a classic series that will be remembered for many years to come.

Looking back on these last 10 years or so, there have been a lot of memorable playoff series for the Rangers. They had a great mix of thrilling, heartbreaking, and emotional moments during this past decade with plenty of notable names that will go down in Rangers history. While they may currently be in a rebuild this season, many fans, including myself, are hopeful that there will be many exciting memories to come in future Springs for the 2020s.

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