It is difficult to determine exactly what causes teams to become rivals. In this list, I consider all of the teams in the same division as the New York Rangers before the NHL made changes to the divisions in 2013-14 rivals. These teams included the Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers, New Jersey Devils, and New York Islanders. I also included the Washington Capitals as they played the Rangers five times in the playoffs from the 2008-09 season to the 2014-15 season. The teams are now in the same division. Here are the Rangers’ best moments against these rivals from the past decade.
5. Daniel Carcillo Burns the Flyers
When tough-guy Daniel Carcillo signed with the Rangers after a stint in Philadelphia, most fans remembered him more for his fighting ability than his scoring. That included a fight in which Carcillo pummeled Marian Gaborik, the Rangers top scorer.
In the 2014 postseason, the Blueshirts’ Carcillo took on his former team, the Flyers, in the first round. Carcillo celebrated a goal in Game 3 in Philadelphia in front of fans as they booed, with one fan flipping him the bird. Carcillo played well all series and buried a beautiful pass from Mats Zuccarello to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead in Game 7. They went on to win the game 2-1 and eliminated the Flyers.
With Chris Kreider out due to a hand injury and Ryan McDonagh playing with a shoulder injury, the Rangers desperately needed other players to rise to the occasion in the series. In addition to Carcillo, a line of Derick Brassard, Benoît Pouliot, and Zuccarello stepped up. The Blueshirts never gained control of the series as the teams alternated victories but they did just enough to eliminate their rivals.
Henrik Lundqvist was fantastic, but it was the strong play of unlikely heroes, including the entire Brassard line, Anton Strålman, Dan Girardi, and Carcillo that pushed the Rangers into the second round. When reminiscing about the Rangers’ run in 2013-14 this series is often forgotten, but it showed their grit and determination.
4. Gaborik Beats the Capitals in Triple Overtime
With the series tied 1-1, the Blueshirts traveled to Washington for Game 3 in the second round of the 2012 postseason. It was a physical, defensive game. Ryan Callahan scored a goal to make it 1-0 in the second period but John Carlson tied it for the Capitals later in the period. It would stay 1-1 for a long time. Finally, in triple overtime, Brad Richards found Gaborik who netted the game-winner with just 5:19 seconds remaining in the overtime period.
Lundqvist was stellar and made 45 saves. With the team struggling to score, he gave them chance after chance to win the game. Girardi left the game bloodied but later returned. McDonagh played 53:17, leading the Rangers, while Callahan played 41:48 to lead all forwards on the team.
John Tortorella, the then-head coach of the Rangers, wasn’t shy about riding his top players and the Rangers essentially went with five defensemen in the game. Stu Bickel spent the third period as well as overtime periods on the bench. Tortorella’s strategy helped win this game but it also wore down the team’s top players and may have been a factor in team’s loss in the following round of the playoffs.
This game was also a crucial one for Gaborik. He played through a shoulder injury that was not made public until after the season ended, and was struggling offensively. His goal proved he could deliver when the team needed him most.
3. Rangers Stun Capitals with Last-Minute Goal
Despite the Rangers thrilling win in Game 3, the Capitals won Game 4 and led late in the third period of Game 5 in their second round series in the 2012 postseason. Joel Ward of the Capitals high-sticked Carl Hagelin with 21.3 seconds remaining in the game. Hagelin was cut and Ward was given a four-minute double-minor penalty.
With time running out Braden Holtby stopped a shot from the point, while Callahan tried to dig out the rebound. He couldn’t score but Richards swiped at the puck and scored, tying the game 2-2 with 6.6 seconds remaining. Richards was one of the most sought after free agents available following the 2012-13 season and when he signed with the Rangers, he was expected to deliver in the playoffs. Richards did just that when he tied the game.
In overtime, with the Rangers still on the power play, Marc Staal took a shot from the point that tipped off a player on the Capitals and beat Holtby giving the Rangers a 3-2 victory. The goal was the biggest of Staal’s career and it came after he persevered through adversity. He missed nearly half of the season because he was struggling to recover from a concussion he had suffered in the previous season. He slumped in the regular season but played his best in the postseason.
Thanks to Richards and Staal, the Rangers took a 3-2 lead in the series. The victory meant they didn’t need to win another game on the road to win the series. They went on to lose Game 6 but beat the Capitals 2-1 in Game 7 at home to advance to the Eastern Conference Final.
2. Martin St. Louis Scores on Mother’s Day
In the second round of the 2014 postseason, just hours after learning his mother had suddenly died of a heart attack, Martin St. Louis decided to play in Game 5, with the Rangers trailing the Penguins 3-1 in the series. The Blueshirts won Game 5 in a blowout, thanks in part to his inspirational decision and Kreider, who scored a goal and added an assist. He had just returned from a hand injury. The team then headed home for Game 6 on Mother’s Day.
St. Louis battled for a rebound and scored the first goal of the game before putting his hand over his heart and looking skyward. The Rangers never relinquished the lead in Game 6 and never trailed again in the series.
In Game 7, with the score tied 1-1 St. Louis found Richards, who once again delivered a clutch goal for the Blueshirts and gave them a 2-1 lead. The team’s strong defense and Lundqvist’s stellar goaltending proved to be all they needed, as they held on for a 2-1 victory.
St. Louis’ heroics were a turning point that helped the Rangers come back to beat the Penguins and eventually make it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final. He came up clutch all postseason, including a game-winning goal in overtime against the Montreal Canadiens in the following round.
1. Stepan Eliminates the Capitals
After finishing with the best record in the NHL in the 2014-15 regular season, the Rangers found themselves just moments away from being eliminated by the Capitals in the second round of the 2015 playoffs.
With 1:41 remaining, Kreider sniped a goal that tied the game off a feed from Derek Stepan. In overtime, Stepan found Rangers’ captain McDonagh, who beat Holtby to force a Game 6 and gave fans at Madison Square Garden a night to remember. It was a defining moment for McDonagh after being named the team’s captain, as he proved he would deliver when he was needed the most. The Rangers carried that momentum into Game 6. They never trailed and held off the Capitals for a 4-3 victory to force a Game 7 at home.
After Alexander Ovechkin gave the Capitals an early lead, Kevin Hayes tied the game for the Rangers. Both teams were physical and neither team could break the tie in regulation.
In overtime, the season came down to which team would score the next goal. After just over 11 intense minutes of overtime hockey, the Capitals iced the puck giving the Rangers a faceoff in the offensive zone. Stepan won the faceoff leading to a shot from the point by Girardi. Stepan collected the rebound and calmly deposited the puck into the back of the net. His goal sent the Capitals home and the Rangers to the Eastern Conference Final.
Not only was scoring the goal an incredible moment, but it completed one of the greatest comebacks in the team’s history.
Looking Back on the Past Decade
It was difficult to choose just five moments because there were so many amazing ones over the past decade. The Blueshirts had incredible comebacks, overtime goals, and lots of gutsy victories over rivals. Many players became heroes when they delivered under pressure against these teams.
As the Rangers rebuild, this young team, filled with new players, will look to improve their play against rivals as the new decade begins. It has been a few years since any of these moments took place, but the Rangers are slowly yet surely inching closer to creating new ones.
I grew up in Brooklyn, New York, rooting for the Rangers, Yankees, Giants, and Knicks. When my dream of playing shortstop for the Yankees fell short, I started writing about sports instead. I’m a proud graduate of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland.