Good Afternoon
Good Afternoon
SportsColumnistsNeil Best

Garden fans will rise to the Game 7 occasion

Rangers fans bang on the glass during pregame

Rangers fans bang on the glass during pregame warmups before Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Washington Capitals during the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs at Madison Square Garden on April 30, 2015. Credit: Getty Images / Mike Stobe

Noise isn't what it used to be in New York sports, what with the expensive tickets and wide concourses and sashimi-serving hideaways that are de rigueur for 21st Century stadiums and arenas.

That's not a slam on fans, who still fill seats around here more reliably than almost anywhere else, and for the money they are spending can do whatever they please. But it is a fact of modern sports life.

Which brings us to the matter of a certain hockey game scheduled for Wednesday at Madison Square Garden.

Forget everything I just wrote, and everything you have heard about Capitals fans out-yelling Rangers fans so far in their second-round playoff series -- true as that may be.

Because like the players they root for, there are no fans like hockey fans when it comes to rising to a playoff occasion.

It was true of Islanders supporters who sent the Coliseum out in style during a raucous Game 6 victory over the Capitals in the first round, and it will be true of Rangers fans in Game 7 against the Capitals in the second round.

That does not ensure the Rangers will win -- even if they are 6-0 in Game 7s at the Garden and 9-0 in their last nine elimination games there, all with Henrik Lundqvist in goal.

And screaming fans are not as important as more tangible benefits of home cooking such as Alain Vigneault getting the last line change in his ongoing matchup against Alex Ovechkin.

Still . . . it matters in an emotion-fueled sport as hockey, and is a just reward for the Rangers' players and fans for a Presidents' Trophy-winning, home-ice-clinching regular season.

"That's one of the reasons we wanted to win the league, so you can get that home advantage," Carl Hagelin said. "We're definitely going to use it. We have a great crowd and we've played well at home all year."

True: They were 25-11-5 at the Garden in the regular season. But they were even better on the road: 28-11-2.

Now, though, is when it counts.

So far this postseason home teams are 2-0 in Game 7s, including the Capitals over the Islanders. Last year they were 1-6, but the lone exception was the Rangers, over the Flyers. (The Rangers also won one on the road, in Pittsburgh.)

"Like any team, you want to use that crowd, use that energy, hopefully have a good start and have that comfort of getting dressed in your own locker room," Ryan McDonagh said.

"Obviously, there are going to be a lot of thoughts going through your mind and just being in your own room helps calm you down and gets you focused for what's ahead."

Whether their favorites respond on the ice, there is no doubt Rangers fans -- as loyal as any for a New York-area team going back decades -- will respond in the not-so-cheap seats.

Ovechkin's sort-of guarantee of a Capitals' victory only added to the potential material.

The good feelings will evaporate quickly if the Rangers lose, a too-soon exit for a team with big plans. But that's the sort of negative thought players and fans don't want rattling around in their brains Wednesday night.

"Playing in big games at home is always fun," Lundqvist said. "Your focus and your approach is the same, but obviously the experience of playing in front of your fans in a big game is hard to describe and hard to replace as well."

Said Martin St. Louis, "To play in front of your fans like that, in that building . . . those are the scenarios that you put yourself in when you're a kid, on the ponds, on the street and now the scenario comes.

"This is reality. This is a real opportunity. We're excited."

You're not the only ones.

With Laura Albaneseand Steve Zipay

New York Sports