There is nothing “under the radar” about being in first place in the conference, having the inside track on the best record in the league and doing it with one of your sport’s leading candidates for MVP. Except, apparently, when the city in which you play is swept up in a basketball craze centered around the most unsung of heroes. These days, in New York, Lin-sanity trumps all.
But there’s a trend sweeping the hockey world that deserves more of this city’s attention: Lund-sanity, and the meteoric rise of the New York Rangers. The first-place, Eastern-Conference-leading, President’s-Trophy-chasing New York Rangers, led by netminder Henrik Lundqvist’s MVP-caliber year. Alright, maybe “Lund-sanity” doesn’t have the same ring. And sure, hockey isn’t at the top of everyone’s list in a city where the Yankees are king, the Knicks are in second and the football Giants are probably a close third. But it shouldn’t be about which sport is king. It should all be about The King – King Henrik Lundqvist, and his men.
Lin-sanity is incredible, inspirational and impressive. Lund-sanity is all that and more.
Nothing should be taken away from Jeremy Lin’s remarkable stretch, which has captivated a city and a country yearning for a Cinderella story in a sport where the rich get richer and those who fail to catch up are left in the wake. The sudden star has saved his coach’s job and a season headed in the wrong direction. But the Knicks, six-game winning streak and all, are still one game under .500 and in eighth place in the Eastern Conference. They are nine games behind the conference-leading Chicago Bulls.
The Rangers are tops in their conference, one point behind the league leading Detroit Red Wings and playing their best hockey of the season – maybe even their best hockey since June of 1994. While the Knicks needed a last-second three-point bucket to come from behind and defeat a cellar-dwelling team with a 9-21 record, the Rangers were on the road shutting out the defending Stanley Cup champions. The Knicks are barely hanging on to the final playoff spot. The Rangers – nine points ahead of second place in the conference – have a firm hold on the top one. It’s time for the sporting world, or at the very least the back pages, to take notice. The New York Rangers are without question, at the moment, the best team in this city. They might be the best team in their sport.
It’s starting to look like they might be the last one standing, too. And that success starts with Lundqvist. The Swedish netminder is playing at a level that has him at the forefront of the Vezina Trophy discussion. It’s earning him serious consideration for the Hart Trophy, too. Lundqvist is second in goals against average, first in save percentage and fourth in wins. Last night, he made 42 saves in the Rangers’ 3-0 win over the Boston Bruins, earning his league-leading seventh shutout. On a nightly basis, he is a rock in net, a steadying force for a team that has at times had trouble scoring goals, but almost never loses because the goaltender wasn’t on his game. He’s playing at a level previously unseen at the world’s most famous arena since Mike Richter donned the No. 35 jersey and played between the pipes for the Blueshirts.
King Henrik has been criticized in recent years for supposedly poor playoff performance. But that is due, in large part, to the fact that the Rangers have, for years, lacked the chemistry and continuity to be taken seriously in title discussions. Now, they have the pieces in front of him to make a run at the Stanley Cup.
So while Lundqvist is anchoring one of hockey’s best teams, the city is transfixed on the remarkable rise of a point guard trying to lead his team into the playoff picture. Sooner or later, New York needs to take notice of the Knicks’ Garden co-tenants. The ones that lead their league, the ones with one of their league’s best players. The spotlight deserves to shine on the ice, too.