NEW YORK — Hockeytown, this is not.
The New York state of mind is not focused on the neutral zone trap. It’s hard to be a Rangers fan in the city. Spike Lee and Whoopi Goldberg don’t splice Rangers footage into their films.
Sure, the Rangers have fans and sellouts and Original Six tradition, and they even won a Stanley Cup back in 1994. But I have been here since Monday and I am here to tell you that there is no buzz in this town for the New York Rangers. The House of Blueshirts is the hockey house of blues.
It’s not just because the 2012-13 Rangers can’t score goals, have no power play (2 for 38 in playoffs), and are teetering on the brink of elimination. No. It was like this in the days leading up to Tuesday night’s de facto clincher by the Bruins.
The Knicks are the big deal here. The Yankees are a big deal. And the Giants. Even the Jets.
The Rangers? Not that big of a deal. They get sketchy coverage in the local papers. They aren’t a hot topic on sports radio. Except for their All-World goalie, Henrik Lundqvist, they lack star power.
When Mark Messier and friends won their Cup in 1994, the Rangers lost that special something that the Red Sox had prior to winning in 2004. They ceased to be the “long-suffering” Rangers. They became just another team. If not for their proximity to Penn Station, the Rangers might just as well be the New York Islanders.
It doesn’t matter that the Rangers have better shot-blockers than the Knicks. New York City treats the Rangers the way ESPN treats the NHL. Among winter/spring sports, basketball rules in this town, even if the local team was eliminated five days ago.
The Gotham tabloids have been full of Knick stuff this week. Report cards. Speculation about the future of Amar’e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler. Excuses from overrated ball hog Carmelo Anthony. Skull-imploding salary cap stories. Draft speculation about a No. 24 pick in a thin pool of draftees.
I covered three Knicks-Celtics playoff games at Madison Square Garden this spring. I covered the Rangers-Bruins Tuesday night. The difference in media presence was startling. There were twice as many reporters and media outlets at the Garden when the Knicks played. It was a city event. The Garden was a place to be seen. Bernie Williams toted his guitar over to 33rd and 7th and performed the national anthem before Game 1.
It was nothing like that Tuesday. Colleague Kevin Dupont told me a story of spotting Jaromir Jagr outside the Garden after the game-day skate. Jagr is hockey royalty. He played for the Rangers. But nobody seemed to notice him on the streets outside the world’s most famous arena. Think this would happen if Jason Kidd stood on 33rd Street hailing a cab?
This is not to take anything away from the Rangers. They play hard. They did a great job overcoming a 2-0 deficit against the higher-seeded Washington Capitals in the first round. The Rangers were 16-6-2 at home this year. They play well in their own building.
They obviously have a high-profile coach with a Stanley Cup championship on his résumé. Combustible John Tortorella looks a little like the Most Interesting Man in the World. But hockey is not particularly interesting to the citizens of the Big Apple.
The Blueshirts managed to attract a couple of A-list fans Tuesday. Liam Neeson and Sting watched Game 3 from the high-priced seats. But the Rangers are not the Knicks. And they are not what the Bruins are in Boston.
It’s impossible to have a hockey culture in New York City. The people who live and work here did not grow up breathing Zamboni fumes. New York can never be Toronto, Detroit . . . or Boston, Massachusetts.
Think about how the Bruins have become part of the fabric of everyday life in Boston. There were years when the Black and Gold seemed to be a niche team — a franchise with 18,000 loyalists and little spillover. The Bruins were largely ignored on sports talk radio and suffered through some dull decades after the Bobby Orr mania of the 1970s.
Now the Bruins are everywhere. They are a little like the old Red Sox. You may not be a fan, but it’s impossible to get through your day without knowing the outcome of last night’s playoff game. Walk through the streets of Brighton or Southie during a Bruins game and you can follow the action without leaving the sidewalk.
The Knicks have this kind of meaning in New York City. They haven’t won a championship in 40 years, but New York is a playground-basketball city and there’s always hunger for the Knicks to be good again.
Before Game 3, the Rangers ran a montage on the video board over the ice and highlighted great New York moments that came at the expense of Boston teams. In order, the footage featured the Bucky Dent Game, the Bill Buckner Game, David Tyree’s catch in Super Bowl XLII, and a Carmelo Anthony jumper against the Celtics.
Huh? We all know what’s wrong with that picture. The Knicks and Melo shouldn’t be in there with the others, but New Yorkers thirst for the Knicks to be good and relevant. It’s just not the same for the Rangers.
Might as well end this thing Thursday night.