After the third NHL lockout under Commissioner Gary Bettman, hockey fans must indeed decide for themselves if their love for the game will once again outweigh the tarnished image the sport has created. Well, I can only ever speak on my own behalf, but I must say this: I am stoked that the NHL is back and my New York Rangers are skating once again.
Nobody likes a sports lockout, whether it is the owners’ or the players’ fault. Businesses in the surrounding areas of the teams, fans, and employees alike suffer from the loss of revenue and games in which draw the crowds and get the collective talks going. But with the lockout now ended and teams ready to skate, all this fan can do now is get ready to enjoy the sprint to the finish line for a Rangers team that is built to win, and win now.
Tonight, the Rangers are hosted by the Boston Bruins in the first of 48 games these teams will play this season for the opportunity to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup. In the crease for the Rangers is the reigning Vezina Trophy winner, Henrik Lundqvist, who is looked upon to lead them further than their Conference Finals loss from a year ago to the New Jersey Devils.
The most intriguing off-season move for the Rangers was the acquisition of LW Rick Nash, who scored 30 goals last season with the Columbus Blue Jackets, and should provide the sniper on offense that the Blueshirts lacked in 2012. The Rangers offense should hum along with returning players such as Marian Gaborik, Brad Richards, Ryan Callahan, Derek Stepan, Brian Boyle and youngster Chris Kreider. It is no doubt that the addition of Nash will be a huge boost, and one that can take the Rangers to the next level.
But this season will be more about their defense than anything else. All teams will have an adjustment period of a few games before their offenses begin to click, and their goalies begin to become one with the crease again. It is inevitable without the preseason games that players are used to having before the season begins.
Coach John Tortorella needs tremendous defensive play from the likes of Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh, Michael Del Zotto, Stu Bickel and the rest. This will prove to be the true backbone of the Rangers and their quest for the cup this year. When it comes down to a quick sprint for 48 games, we can only hope as fans that the offenses click early and often, while the goaltending is better than the next team. But 2013 will show that defense truly does win championships, and that starts tonight at TD Garden against a very tough Bruins team that has many stars of their own.
So yes, I am stoked that the Rangers are back in business. Just as I chided the NFL during their lockout in 2011, I have done the same throughout this NHL hiatus. But now that the games are back in action, it is difficult to turn my back on the sport that I love to watch, and the team that I want to see win again. It has been a long time since Mark Messier and the 1994 Rangers. Let’s hope this year puts and end to the waiting.
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