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New York Rangers Become Area’s Most Compelling Story

The Rangers offer a glimmer hope this winter for a disappointing New York sports scene.

New York Rangers
New York Rangers

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The famous song claims these people are kings of the hill, top of the heap, but such boastful lyrics certainly can’t be describing the sports scene around New York City throughout the past few months.

To make matters worse, these little town blues aren’t melting away anytime soon. But there is one big glimmer of hope in the New York Rangers, who shrugged off a sluggish start and now stand second in the Metropolitan Division.

The Rangers took a three-game winning streak into Tuesday night’s contest against the Islanders, but were without star goaltender Henrik Lundqvist (flu) and dropped a 5-3 decision. Nevertheless, it’s easy to see the Blueshirts very well might be the best game in town.

Over the last few weeks and months, manic sports fans in the New York area were forced to digest some ugly results – and are still wondering how certain teams will crawl out of the muck.

This current ugly stretch has gone a little something like this:

New York Knicks: Where to start? The Knicks (15-26) have dropped four in a row – including a 103-80 drubbing to the underachieving Nets on Monday – and look more like a cellar-dweller than a potential second-half sleeper. Coach Mike Woodson is on the hot seat, Carmelo Anthony is probably already looking for real estate in Los Angeles, and J.R. Smith is just as well behaved as, uh, Richard Sherman. Yikes.

New York Jets: Sanchez gets injured, Geno steps in, Geno gets picked off, Geno gets picked off again, Jets lose, Jets win, Jets lose, Jets win, Jets lose, Jets finally look like a solid team on the season’s last day, Jets wind up 8-8, Rex gets an extension. Ho hum.

New York Giants: A dreadful 0-6 start doomed Big Blue and eventually cost them a spot in the playoffs. It probably hurts more, too, that Archie and Olivia Manning’s other son will be playing at MetLife Stadium on Feb. 2.

New York Yankees: Finishing 12 games behind the World Champion Boston Red Sox and posting a mediocre 85-77 record wasn’t exactly what this bunch had in mind. Perhaps the signings of Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran and Masahiro Tanaka will help erase the memories of missing the playoffs for just the second time since 1994. However, nothing will quell the circus surrounding Alex Rodriguez. We could be in for a long spring training.

New York Mets: Nothing good to report here. They stink, and Matt Harvey will miss the upcoming year recovering from Tommy John surgery. At least Bartolo Colon has invaded the Big Apple…

OK, moving on.

New York Islanders: I wrote last week about how it’s good to be an Islanders fan. While I fully believe it, you can’t say this group is fully sucking you in. Even in winning 10 of the last 13 games, they still sit rock bottom in the division. Hope is very much alive – just not for the postseason.

New Jersey Devils: The Devils are fighting tooth and nail for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East, while die-hard fans have been forced into watching the slow process of phasing out iconic netminder Martin Brodeur. This group may pull off a nice second-half run and reach the postseason, but either way it’s gut-wrenching to know one of the game’s finest athletes will be a memory in the near future. Ugh.

Brooklyn Nets: Here’s where things get dicey. Actually, the Nets could ruin the whole point of this column if they continue to win games. But there’s no denying how disappointing first-year coach Jason Kidd and his players were throughout the first eight weeks of the season. Entering the New Year, Brooklyn went 10-21 after enjoying a fruitful offseason that included projections of being Miami and Indiana’s worthy rival for the East crown. Since Jan. 2, though, Deron Williams and company have gone 8-1 and now miraculously stand just two games out of the fourth seed in the playoffs.

That brings us to the Rangers. It appeared as if they were headed down similar paths as these sorry teams in the opening stages of this campaign. The boiling point was the night of Dec. 20, coincidentally enough, another 5-3 loss to the Islanders. Lundqvist coughed up four goals on 19 shots and was benched the following three games in favor of backup Cam Talbot.

But, now, the Blueshirts have turned the tables and look the part of a potential juggernaut come playoff time, amassing an 11-4-1 record in 16 games since that dismal showing.

Lundqvist has been sensational over the last two weeks; he’s surrendered eight goals in his last six games, while highlighting that torrid stretch with a 38-save shutout against Detroit on Jan. 16.

“Can we win a lot of games without Henrik (Lundqvist) playing like Henrik? … In every game, your best players have to be your best,” coach Alain Vigneault told the Daily News in December. “I’m not inventing anything there, just stating facts.”

Meanwhile, the offensive unit has been ignited by Rick Nash, who has nine goals in his last nine games.

“Those players are elite players,” Vigneault said. “They are difference-makers. They need to find a way to make a difference in a positive way, and that’s what those guys are doing for us right now.”

Pittsburgh and Boston ultimately could provide daunting tasks, and the West is crowded with Stanley Cup suitors. But it’d really be something if Lundqvist and his boys can make a real run. Heck, it’d give New York something to something to cheer for, something to be happy about.

No wonder Sinatra’s song says it’s the city that doesn’t sleep.

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