It’s hard for many people (die-hard Rangers fans included) to believe that the New York Rangers have the best record in the NHL as the team approaches the halfway point of the regular season. Even though the Rangers are not the most popular team in New York, the success of the Rangers in 2011-12 has started to get the attention of the city, and there is a buzz that this team can do something special.
Besides gaining attention in their own city, the Rangers are starting to garner some attention from the rest of the United States and Canada. It certainly didn’t hurt the Broadway Blueshirts that they featured on HBO’s ’24/7′, and they beat the Philadelphia Flyers in the Winter Classic. The game against the Flyers was also the 5th most watched regular season game since 1975.
In any sport, the league always does better when the premier teams are in good shape. For example, Major League Baseball’s darkest periods always seemed to coincide with when the Yankees weren’t contending for championships every season. In recent years, the NHL’s premier teams have been successful, and it has unquestionably helped the NHL. Three out of the last four Stanley Cup winners were Original Six teams (Red Wings 2008, Blackhawks 2010, Bruins 2011). With these teams competing for the Cup, the biggest hockey markets in the U.S. were watching, and their following grew as a result of their success.But as big as those markets are, and as great as the resurgence of the Blackhawks and the Bruins’ ending of their Stanley Cup drought was for their fan bases and the league, there is no bigger market than New York.
Although it has been eighteen years since the Rangers have appeared in the Stanley Cup Finals, it was arguably the launching pad to get the NHL on a national network. Game 7 of the 1994 Stanley Cup Finals between the Rangers and the Vancouver Canucks was the most watched game in NHL history at that time, and the accomplishment was even more amazing when you realize that the game, which was aired on ESPN, was blacked out in the New York area because the game was also televised in New York on Madison Square Garden network.
1994 was the last year that the NHL playoffs were televised on cable, in part due to the ratings that those Finals games garnered. Now, eighteen years later, the Rangers could be on their way to do the same thing again.