It just had to be Pittsburgh, didn’t it? Then again, saying “it had to be” and following that with nearly any Eastern Conference playoff team – Washington, Philadelphia, Tampa Bay, Detroit, the other New York team – would carry the same air of inevitability. Sooner or later, one of these teams was going to fell the New York Rangers, who have been on the business end of a Sisyphean task for the last half-decade.
Almost mercifully, the window of realistic Stanley Cup contention seems to have closed definitively for this era of Rangers hockey, opening a new aperture full of uncertainty. For players like Dan Boyle and Keith Yandle, the future seems unlikely to include diagonal letters and the collective nonchalance of Madison Square Garden. Nothing left to do but clean out the locker and move on to new, gray pastures. For someone like Henrik Lundqvist, however, the boulder remains, and the mountain only gets taller and steeper with each passing revolution about the sun.
The 2013 Stanley Cup Finals will be remembered for a variety of reasons: it was the first final in twenty years to feature at least three overtime games, it was the first final since 1979 to feature two of the Original Six franchises and it included perhaps the most improbable Stanley Cup-winning comeback in NHL history, a 17-second burst of offense that began with the Blackhawks pulling their immovable force of a goalie, Corey Crawford, and ended with a rebounded shot from Dave Bolland.
Really, it was an alignment of all the things that make postseason hockey a seemingly different sport from regular season hockey, one which people are more willing to ingest as a result of the excitement and fervor with which each team plays its games. No one leaves anything on the ice during the playoffs, or at least that is what fans are led to believe, and when a team has already played a legendary first-round series, with a legendary game 7, it is hard to continue putting out the effort to defeat team after team in route to a championship.