That Empty Feeling

It still haunts me. The loss to the Devils is still fresh. That won’t change for a while. I know I’m not alone here. Many Ranger fans are still hurting from falling to our bitter Hudson rival in a grueling Conference Final. By now, I thought it would pass. Instead, it still lingers. The pain and disappointment following Adam Henrique’s cruel conclusion to a well fought series in one of the game’s best rivalries.

Ironically, I just wrote a piece on Henrique’s continued postseason success after helping his team stave off elimination for something called the Stanley Cup. That’s what our team would’ve been playing for had they advanced. Here we are not fully recovered from those last two games. You know. The ones the Blueshirts failed to show for the first period before making a gutsy rally to draw even only to break our hearts. Even with that now annoying ’94 Cup, that’s what it’s like to root for this team.

Heartache is something we deal with. Where is the person who had that “Now I Can Die In Peace” sign now? If they’re still alive God willing, they’re probably wondering when our team will win another Cup. Before you ponder that, they still have to get there first. Everything broke right. The Pens and Bruins went belly up. The Canucks got run over. The three biggest threats were gone. Peace of cake, right? Not for this franchise. Sure. They barely got by the Sens and Caps in the first two rounds. Maybe that should’ve warned us. I’ll bet if you took a pulse among Garden Faithful, at least 70-75 percent probably believed the Rangers would prevail over the Devils.

Before the series, many cited that they hadn’t faced a real goalie. True by all accounts. Jose Theodore? Scott Clemmensen? Ilya Bryzgalov? Who are we kidding? Scary aspect is Theodore was good in the opening round. Henrik Lundqvist was supposed to be different. After all, this was a special year for the former ‘King.’ I’ll never refer to our 30-year old Swede as that again until the Cup returns to Broadway. Without the Hart and Vezina candidate, our team never makes it out of the first round. Lundqvist got the monkey off his back by winning big games in the playoffs to finally help the Rangers reach their first Conference Final since Messier, Gretzky, Leetch, Graves and Richter got there in 1997. So long ago that playoff beards were a new thing for me.

In the first three games of the series including two identical 3-0 shutouts, Lundqvist was the difference. He made clutch stops and had the city that never sleeps thinking championship. It hadn’t been this exciting in years. Forget the Yankees. Toss out the Giants. It’s the Garden tenants that really gets fans amped up. There was that improbably Knick run to the NBA Finals in ’99. Since, Dolan’s MSG has been a dump. The Knicks still are. Thankfully, our Blueshirts have been allowed to be built “The Right Way.” A team mantra about how the ’11-12 club played. Sacrificing for each other by finishing checks and blocking shots, which apparently still isn’t acceptable for some “idiots,” as John Tortorella referenced.

I’m not going to lie. Game Five against Washington is one of the greatest games I’ve ever been to. The best we got to see as far as the playoffs, edging out Michal Rozsival. Sadly, that miraculous comeback already feels like it was a year ago. That’s how much I miss Rangers hockey. I tweeted it a few times over the past 24 hours. Others feel similarly. I keep expecting to go to MSG for a big game. The only hockey one in town. However, it’ll be played in Newark, leaving that bitter taste. It’s like one of those awful beers you try where one taste and you need chips or anything to get rid of it.

Losing to the enemy hurts. Now, we know how the other side felt 18 years ago. The thing that gets me is that team has won three Cups since. Yet, it still burned them up inside. It didn’t help that the anniversaries came out on for Games 6 and 7. I’m sure every Devil was sick of it. Particularly “Marrrr—rrrttttttyyy,” who got the last laugh after his folly allowed Marian Gaborik to tie Game Five. They weren’t supposed to lose because of Stephen Gionta and Ryan Carter. Those names may as well be John Druce.

I still BELIEVED. Many of us did. The Rangers were the better team, giving Blueseaters hope that they could win again in Game Six like their former captain once delivered in yesteryear. Especially when the script was playing out the same with the team rallying from a dreadful start to tie it. Only it was 2-2 at the end of two. That goal never came with instead Henrique providing the one you didn’t see coming. An ending that left me sitting there for a few minutes as the Devils celebrated, thinking how close they were.

It’s funny. But I always felt if Game Five went to sudden death, we would’ve won. In Game Six, I had the opposite feeling. They had to get it done in regulation. It never happened. So, a great season ended too soon. Hard to believe it was only two weeks ago. Yet I feel so empty inside. All I can think about is next year. I want to skip summer and go right to late September where hopefully there’s no work stoppage. God forbid. Why not us? The Devils did it once. The Rangers are good enough to bounce back and make ’12-13 a special year.

I just wish I had a game to go to.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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