Rangers bask in rare moment in New York spotlight

Martin St. Louis #26 of the Rangers salutes

Martin St. Louis #26 of the Rangers salutes the crowd after he was named one of the stars of Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Madison Square Garden on Sunday, May 11, 2014. (Credit: Jim McIsaac)

Something is different about the city.

More than a few Rangers couldn't help but notice this Wednesday when close to 100 members of the media turned up for their first practice since the team took a 2-0 lead over Montreal in the Eastern Conference finals. While the Yankees are trying to get healthy and the Knicks are trying to find the right coach and the Mets are just trying in general, the Rangers suddenly stand alone as the area's feel-good sports story. The Rangers are just two wins away from the Stanley Cup Final, and the fact that they have a really good team is starting to dawn on those sports fans who pay only casual attention to hockey.

"Look how much more media there is," defenseman Marc Staal said as he gestured around the team's dressing room after Wednesday's practice at Madison Square Garden. "We've been away for the last week or so. You can certainly feel the buzz starting to come now, being in the city for a day or so. It's great. Get hockey on the map."

The Rangers have always had a huge contingent of devoted fans. But their current success, coupled with the story of how the team rallied around teammate Martin St. Louis after the death of his mother, has made them a topic that transcends the sports pages, even garnering them some attention on National Public Radio over the weekend.

Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who had a 40-save performance in Game 2, said it's great to see how the city is reacting to the success of the team.

"I don't listen to a lot of shows right now or watch a lot of TV, but it's always fun when people care," Lundqvist said. "We have so many fans that follow us throughout the year, but New York as a sports town, of course, more people tend to get more involved as we get closer to the finals. You have to expect that.

"It's fun when that happens. You want people to care about this team. That's what makes this organization so special."

It's been 20 years since the Rangers were in the Stanley Cup Final, meaning most of the players on the team were in elementary school somewhere in Canada when this team was last toast of the town. Still, all of the players have heard stories from those who played on that team and they are now beginning to get a firsthand idea of what it might be like to play for a championship in New York.

"You notice that there's three or four times more people here than usual," said forward Brian Boyle, looking around the dressing room.

With New York being the media capital of the country, Boyle believes having a winning team there can do some good things for the popularity of the sport in general.

"I think it helps hockey," Boyle said. "It's a great city to have the opportunity to play in. Our fans are die-hard and that won't change no matter what. To be able to play for them is a privilege. Hopefully, if we can get some buzz around the city to people who aren't hockey fans and we can convert them. That will be nice too."

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