New York Giants head coach Brian Daboll during team OTA...

New York Giants head coach Brian Daboll during team OTA in East Rutherford, N.J. Thursday, June 2, 2022. Credit: Noah K. Murray

Brian Daboll hasn’t been on the sideline for so much as a preseason game, yet the Giants’ first-year coach already is one of the most popular coaches in New York.

Just watch when the camera pans to him on the scoreboard video screen at Madison Square Garden, and he’s greeted with hearty cheers from a hockey crowd bedazzled by the Rangers' run to the Eastern Conference Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

“They must like bald guys,” Daboll cracked the other day, a few minutes before the Giants’ second-to-last organized team activity session leading up to this week’s minicamp. “This is a fun team to watch. It’s an unbelievable atmosphere. Great people. Eastern Conference Final. Doesn’t get better than this.”

Actually, it does get better than this, but only if the Rangers reach the Stanley Cup Final for just the second time since their unforgettable 1994 Cup win. Daboll and the rest of the organization got a look at the Stanley Cup when the NHL allowed the team to have the most coveted trophy in sports at their facility, and the names Messier, Leetch, Richter, Graves and others inscribed on the Cup were in full view.

But Daboll paid close attention to hockey superstition while Lord Stanley’s chalice was in the building.

“Didn’t touch it,” he said.

These are heady times for the Rangers and a perfect way for Daboll to ingratiate himself with the New York crowd (even if he figures to be less popular once the games start for his own team). After all, the Giants' roster is far from competitive, and Daniel Jones is a far cry from Josh Allen, whose brilliance on Daboll’s watch in Buffalo helped pave the way for the coach’s arrival with the Giants.

But there is good reason for Daboll to attach himself to the Rangers, even if he must live vicariously through this team’s remarkable and unexpected run against the Penguins and then the Hurricanes to face the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Lightning. He gets to feel the electricity of what it’s like to win in New York, and he gets to see a team that has overachieved to get this far.

He’d love to experience that formula with the Giants, even if it’s unreasonable to expect similar success early on. In fact, barring an unlikely jump in performance from Jones, this looks very much like a four-win team that will need further reconstruction — and almost certainly a new quarterback — from general manager Joe Schoen. In the meantime, Daboll will continue to soak in the magical atmosphere at the Garden, where he has become a regular for the Rangers’ playoff run.

“What a resilient group,” Daboll said of the hockey team. “Two Game 7s back-to-back when they’re down, right? They start out quick [in a 6-2 win over Tampa Bay in Game 1]. They start out quick. Great pass by [Mika] Zibanejad. [Chris] Kreider knocks it home. It's been a fun team to watch and follow. The great thing about sports is they just keep coming back, so kind of get attached to them.”

Daboll has been a hockey enthusiast all his life.

“I played hockey when I was a kid,” said Daboll, who was born in Welland, Ontario, and grew up in the Buffalo suburb of West Seneca. He has been to plenty of Sabres games, but this Rangers team has captured his imagination, as it has for longtime (and long-suffering) New York fans.

“You talked about being part of the culture here, it’s just an awesome thing,” he said. “And after every game, when they’re down and people saying, ‘Well, they didn’t do this, they didn’t do [that].’ Been pretty impressive.”

Daboll’s players have taken note.

“Obviously, in every sport, it translates, the success that they’re having,” guard Shane Lemieux said. “No one counted on them to be where they’re at right now, so it’s a cool underdog story. A lot of times in my football career, a coach has brought up previous teams that have been underdogs, that have overcome deficits and adversity.”

Lemieux knows he sports a famous last name in hockey circles, but he wasn’t a fan growing up, and he doesn’t know if he’s related to Penguins Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux or four-time Stanley Cup winner Claude Lemieux. Shane wears No. 66, the number Mario Lemieux wore.

“I was thinking I get to wear David Diehl’s number,” Shane said. “But the equipment guys gave me 66 because it was Mario’s number.”

He now wears it proudly, choosing to represent the hockey great and the Giants’ two-time Super Bowl champion offensive lineman. And he, like his coach, looks to the Rangers for inspiration that they hope will one day translate to the football field.

Even if that one day may be a ways off.

In the meantime, Game 3 of Rangers-Lightning beckons on Sunday.