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Down to the Core: April 10, 2012

Tangled Up In Blue

For many, the blooming trees and reddened thermometers signal the start of spring – a new beginning, a fresh start and, finally, the end of winter.

For this editor, spring means the start of the National Hockey League playoffs and the culmination of what’s been one of the New York Rangers’ most enjoyable seasons in recent memory.

Old man winter’s menacing chill failed to settle here on Long Island from late 2011 to early 2012, so naturally the New York Rangers were one of the hottest teams in the NHL during that span.

The Rangers locked up the top seed and will faceoff March 12 at 7 p.m. against the Ottawa Senators, one of the few NHL teams that had success against the Rangers in the regular season, beating them in three out of four meetings.

In the past few years, the Rangers would limp their way into the playoffs as the eight-seed and dangle a false sense of hope in front of fans before getting knocked out in the first round. Based on the 82 games the Rangers have given us this year, there’s a feeling throughout the league that this team will be the one to break the trend.

And what a glorious 82 games it’s been: opening the season in Sweden, four tremendous episodes on HBO’s 24/7, a Winter Classic victory in Philadelphia, 51 wins, the resurgence of Michael Del Zotto and Marian Gaborik, the emergence of Ryan McDonagh and Carl Hagelin, another stellar year from Henrik Lundqvist and plenty of quality postgame audio from Coach John Tortorella, whose “no excuses” policy brought out the best in his players all year.

Playoff hockey represents all that is right in the sports world. Hockey players, after going through what’s clearly the most difficult and demanding regular season schedule in any professional sport, overcome pain and whatever plagued them for 82 games and bring their game to an unreasonably high level of intensity for potentially another 28 games.

No big deal, just another one-third of the season!

When Vancouver hosted the Winter Olympics in 2010, the Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup a few months later. Two players on that team, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith, played for their respective countries (Team USA and Team Canada) during the Olympics, in addition to all 82 games in the regular season and 22 playoff games. Patrick Kane played 110 games that year and Duncan Keith played 111.

No big deal, just another 111-game season! That’s 47 more games than Carlos Beltran played that year for the Mets.

For the superstitious, Mike Richter won the NHL All-Star Game MVP award in 1993-1994, the year the Rangers’ won the Stanley Cup. This year, Gaborik earned the All-Star Game MVP. I’m not superstitious and I do separate church and sport, but hockey gods have been known to operate in mysterious ways.

Playing second fiddle to Tim Tebow, Jeremy Lin, the Giants and now the Yankees and Mets, the Rangers have quietly excelled for the past eight months.

But for your Blueshirts, it’s no big deal, no excuses – just another two and a half months to go.