It was a team that had not played well over the final two months of the year, a team that struggled mightily at Madison Square Garden, and a team that had a question it hasn’t had to answer in over a decade.
It was a question surrounding one of the most successful Rangers of the last 20 years.
Believe it or not, there were serious questions regarding the status of Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.
The 2016-17 campaign was the worst regular season of Lundqvist’s career. There were multiple games he was pulled, and when you combine his poor regular season with the fact that he was overmatched against the Pittsburgh Penguins in last year’s postseason, the concerns seemed legitimate.
For the first time in over a decade, the Rangers went into a postseason with questions about their main man in net, and it was one of the rare instances where I wondered if their opponent in round one, the Montreal Canadiens, had the advantage between the pipes.
After all, Carey Price was probably the best netminder in the sport this season.
Well, this series taught me a valuable lesson.
Never ever underestimate the greatness of one of the best athletes to play in this town for the last ten years.
Lundqvist’s brilliance was on full display. His team fell behind 2-1 in the series and he challenged his teammates heading into Game 4.
He challenged their effort, he challenged their execution level, and he put his money where his mouth is.
The Rangers would not have survived Game 1, Game 5 or Game 6 of their last series against the Canadiens if not for his brilliant play in net.
The Rangers now prepare for the Conference Semifinals against the Ottawa Senators, a series that they’re expected to win.
They’re the Vegas favorites, they’re the healthier team, and they have the better goaltender.
Now, the Rangers have a long way to go before they’re holding up Lord Stanley’s Cup.
In fact, I do not think they’re good enough to beat a team like Washington or Pittsburgh in a best-of-seven in the Conference Finals, but when you reach the Conference Finals in any sport, it’s okay to dream.
You also can dream when you have somebody like Lundqvist in net and I know some Rangers fans are eternally grateful, but I do sense that he’s almost underappreciated by far too many.
Plenty of Rangers fans have taken Lundqvist for granted.
Why? His greatness in the postseason is expected.
As I’ve mentioned before on the air and in this newspaper, his career arc is so similar to Patrick Ewing’s with the New York Knicks.
A yearly standard of excellence, a yearly trip to the playoffs and playoff success, but a career that still lacks that championship trophy.
The hope is that he will change that narrative, but beware of taking a career and a team’s success like this for granted.
Appreciate the ride, the success and the moments, because they can become fleeting. Just ask the New York Knicks, who long for those memorable, meaningful nights in April and May.
For the Rangers, they’re thankful the King is not dead, but alive and well like their playoff chances.
You can listen to me on Friday from 6 to 10 p.m. on CBS Sports Radio & Sunday from 2 to 6 a.m. on WFAN Sports Radio 660/1019 FM.