So it should be no surprise the Broadway Blueshirts advanced further in Shanahan’s first season in New York than they had in a decade. Now that they are in the second round, the Rangers don’t see why they can’t take this run a lot deeper.
Shanahan helped the Rangers became the first team to win a playoff series this year. They swept the Southeast Division-winning Atlanta Thrashers in a four-game romp that ended Wednesday.
“We’re kind of rewriting the personality of the New York Rangers,” said the 38-year-old Shanahan, who won three Stanley Cup rings with Detroit. “It’s a lot more like a New York fan.
“The diversity on this team and the hard work was what brought us success. We’ve got some pluggers, some small guys who are gritty, some old grizzled guys who are still hanging around, and we got guys from different cultures and different backgrounds.”
The Rangers’ dark days lasted from their loss in the 1997 Eastern Conference final until last year when they ended the franchise’s worst playoff drought. New York stayed in the 2006 tournament for only four games, losing in a sweep to New Jersey.
When Shanahan decided his days in Detroit were done last summer, he looked around and made the move to New York. He signed for only one year, yet has already gone further in that time than Mark Messier did in his final four seasons with the Rangers.
But in early February, it looked as though this would be another futile season. Missing the postseason would prove to be the norm instead of the Rangers building off last year’s dip in the playoff pool.
They finished a 2-5-1 stretch Feb. 6 that dropped them to 25-24-5 and made the playoffs seem nearly out of reach. New York’s hopes got even gloomier less than two weeks later when Shanahan slammed into Philadelphia’s Mike Knuble and was wheeled off the ice on a stretcher.
The resulting concussion cost Shanahan a month out of the lineup, but instead of dropping out of the race, the Rangers rode the infusion of Sean Avery’s energy to a 17-6-5 finish and the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Now Shanahan is back, Avery has proven to be as effective a hockey player as he is an agitator, and the addition of rookie scorer Ryan Callahan, solid defenceman Dan Girardi, and the continued growth of second-year goalie Henrik Lundqvist make the Rangers a team that suddenly no one really wants to play.
“Thinking back to the lockout year, we suggested to our fans that we were on the verge of redefining ourselves as an organization,” coach Tom Renney said. “We wanted an injection of youth that could grow up in front of the fans’ eyes.
“I’m not sure how far we’ve come, but certainly it is an important step.”
New York took Thursday off and began the long wait for the second round. The Rangers will get back on the practice ice Friday, but they might not know their next opponent until Tuesday.
“Some guys say it is not better to have rest, and some guys say it is good,” Lundqvist said. “We will take it. It has been intense the last couple of days.
“We can relax a little bit now and get back at it. There is no point thinking what is good or not. It is good that we are moving on to the next level.”
The waiting will certainly seem strange for the Rangers, who have been in a one game at a time, playoff mode for two months.
After taking until the final week to get into the postseason, now they can scout Buffalo, Ottawa, Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay – any of which could be New York’s next opponent.
“I am just enjoying every moment I have a chance to play here,” said captain Jaromir Jagr, in the second round for the first time since 2001 with Mario Lemieux and the Pittsburgh Penguins. “I love this organization. I love the players I am playing with.
“When I was young, Mario gave me the Cup. I always wanted to help the younger guys like Mario helped me.”
Jagr is healthy now, unlike last year when he was felled by a shoulder injury in the playoff opener that rendered him useless against the Devils and hindered him much of the early part of this season.
The way New York has surged this time around has made all the difference, compared to how the Rangers dropped nine straight to wrap up last year.
“It is always exciting to win and have a long rest,” Jagr said. “The last 20 or 30 games of the regular season, the way we played, we can play anybody.”