“Off the tie-up, it is Fehr, but it came back to Yandle. Drive by Girardi, and a save rebound… score! Stepan! In overtime! The Rangers move on to Tampa!”
These words were spoken emphatically—out of necessity, but also pure excitement—over a pulsating Madison Square Garden crowd by Michael “Doc” Emirik on the NBC broadcast of the New York Rangers’ second round, game 7 victory over the Washington Capitals in 2015, which to this day, gives New York Rangers fans goosebumps.
In the scheme of things—this moment is pretty inconsequential. The Rangers would fall to the Tampa Bay Lightning in seven games in the following round. Nor did this moment serve to lay the foundation for any immediate post-season success, as the Rangers failed to escape the first two rounds of the playoffs the next two seasons before famously trading captain Ryan McDonagh in 2018 and declaring a rebuild. What makes this moment unique is the fact that it almost didn’t happen.
After the Rangers won game 2 to tie the series against the Capitals, the Capitals would go on to win two straight and take a commanding 3-1 series lead. However, the Rangers would not waver—doing something NHL teams have successfully done just 31 times: winning three consecutive games—two of which were in overtime, all by a margin of one goal. Following the game seven victory, Derek Stepan said that “…we just seem to have a group here that just keeps their wits about them, and…compete.” “We said from Game 5 — let’s just take it one period at a time, and you never know what can happen” (NY Times).
Seven years later, the Rangers would find themselves in a similar situation. After a season of unexpected success which would see the Rangers finish one win shy of their franchise record—the Rangers would match up against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the opening round of the 2022 playoffs. The Rangers opened the series with a thrilling triple-overtime loss to the Penguins on home ice. They would tie the series at one before heading to Pittsburgh, where the Penguins would score a combined 14 goals in two games to take a 3-1 lead in the series. With the Rangers’ backs against the wall, the series would shift back to the Garden, back to Pittsburgh, and back to Garden once more, where the Rangers, after tying the game late in the third period, would win the game on an overtime power-play goal by Artemi Panarin—sending the Madison Square Garden crowd back into a frenzy reminiscent of the one Derek Stepan sent the Garden into exactly seven years prior, to the day.
Following the win, Ranger’s defenseman Jacob Trouba said, “that ‘No Quit in New York’ thing,” a phrase that had been the Rangers mantra all season, “[it’s] pretty true with this group” (NY Times).
The 2022 New York Rangers were far from the team that came back to beat the Capitals in 2015. The 2015 Rangers were a team characterized by their lack of elite offense—a team that had to use their versatility and tenacity to win games. Conversely, the 2022 Rangers were offensively gifted—but ultimately leaned on the strengths of their 2015 counterparts to beat the Penguins in seven. While no longer a Ranger, Derek Stepan’s 2015 overtime winner helped shape a salient identity propelling the team to an Eastern Conference finals birth. Seven years later, with that identity very much in place, the Rangers made it back to the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since 2015, and if Derek Stepan had never scored that goal, it might not have happened.
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(Featured Image Credit: Julie Jacobson/Associated Press)