The beauty of the transformed Garden, players say, is that the renovations didn't rob the place of its personality. The problem for the Rangers is that they aren't the only ones who get inspired by it.
"It looks awesome," said Kyle Palmieri, the Smithtown product who grew up rooting for the Rangers and idolizing Mark Messier. And Monday night he scored the winning goal against them, for the Anaheim Ducks.
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"My dad was a Rangers fan and I kind of just took to them. I loved the atmosphere here, after seeing my first game. I was a Rangers fan ever since," he said after he beat Henrik Lundqvist with a high hard shot at 9:09 of the first period, giving the Ducks a 2-0 lead and seriously dampening that crisp atmosphere the 22-year-old grew up loving.
His parents were among the 30 or so people who came just to see him play for the first time in his home area. Palmieri said the family moved from Smithtown when he was 3, back to a family farm in Montvale, N.J. "We had a lot of room and I was lucky enough for my dad to build me a nice hockey rink, too," he said, adding that he still has "a decent amount of family" on Long Island.
Their neighbors who root for the Rangers could not have been happy to see Palmieri put the skids on the home team's recent momentum at the made-over Garden. But the Ducks have been playing well everywhere. "We're just grinding it out, finding a way to win," said the player who notched the seventh game-winner of his young career.
Lundqvist said, "Maybe I was a little far back in the net, but it was a good shot."
Brad Richards of the Rangers said Monday that each of the Original Six teams' buildings is special and the Garden is in a class by itself because the transformation maintained the structure and the buzz. Palmieri can relate to that.
"Messier, Adam Graves: those were all guys I grew up watching and were pretty big inspirations for me getting into hockey," he said, adding that he had a special place for Messier. "I don't think I've ever met him in person. I've been in the same place as him."
That would include the Garden Monday night. Messier was there in his new role with the Oilers. "It's pretty cool," Palmieri said. "They have so much tradition here and it's such an awesome place to play."
He got to spend Sunday night on the family farm and he got to go meet his fans in the stands after the media was done talking with him. "I grew up dreaming about playing in Madison Square Garden someday," he said. That day was Monday.
"It was," he said, "a special night for me."