In the last days before the sports world ground to a halt, as the coronavirus pandemic grew more and more threatening, the decision-makers at MSG Network knew they had to prepare for a possible stoppage of the NBA and NHL seasons.
So when the NBA season paused on March 11 and the NHL followed suit the next day, the network had a plan of action.
“Knowing that we’re going to be doing this for a while, we wanted to have some kind of rhyme or reason for what we’re doing,’’ MSG executive Jeff Filippi said. “So we wanted to show what are now classic games, and games that really haven’t been seen since they aired.’’
During the first week without games, MSG rebroadcast games from the current season. The old-time games would come later.
According to Filippi, the network’s executive producer and senior vice president of programming and production, the current season — in which the Rangers were engaged in a battle for a playoff spot — had been so much “fun” that the network thought viewers would want to relive some of the more memorable games.
So they came up with themes such as “St. Hat Trick’s Day.’’ On March 17, St. Patrick’s Day, they broadcast all the 2019-20 games in which a player had a hat trick, including the five-goal performance by Mika Zibanejad against Washington on March 5.
Last week, the network aired games from the 2013-14 season, when the Rangers went to the Stanley Cup Final. The week finished on Saturday with rebroadcasts of the four games the Blueshirts won in the Eastern Conference finals against Montreal that season. The games were enhanced by present-day interviews by MSG broadcaster John Giannone.
Filippi said fans have requested particular games. Many want to see replays of the run to the 1994 Stanley Cup. That has been broadcast many times over the years and will be featured in due time, Filippi said.
During this pause, the network has an opportunity to re-run other games, such as the 1997 playoff run — led by Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier — to the Eastern Conference finals. That was the Rangers’ last playoff experience before 2006, when Jaromir Jagr and rookie goaltender Henrik Lundqvist finally led them back into the postseason.
At some point, viewers will see the 1979 playoff win over the Islanders that advanced the Rangers to the Stanley Cup Final against the Canadiens. That is about the oldest thing in the library, Filippi said. Though the network began in 1969, programming wasn’t routinely saved before the 1980s.
Filippi said people are watching and seem to be enjoying the programming. It is providing an escape from the non-stop bad news about the COVID-19 pandemic.
“That’s how I think people are consuming us at this point,’’ he said. “With the news, it’s so down, [people] can’t watch it. Well, if you’re home in the evening, there’s a chance there’s going to be a fun Knicks, Rangers, Islanders, Devils game for you to watch, if that’s what you’re inclined to do at that moment. So that’s what we’re trying to do for people.’’