Fans of the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals aren’t walking away from a ninth playoff meeting unscathed
By Steve Kournianos
The back-and-forth nature of the rivalry between the New York Rangers and the Washington Capitals is far from a sports oddity. In fact, it’s quite common. And I’m talking about we the fans. While the players involved deal with this repeated scenario in their own unique way, they don’t have time to dwell on how their performance on the ice has a remarkable way of introducing us to Panic Disorder’s second cousin. They don’t have time to worry about stuff like that, so end up doing enough worrying for the both of us.
These two teams have battled it out on the ice for years. Their geographical proximity only exacerbates the tension. New Yorkers go to D.C. for college and work, and vice versa. Not much in that regard has changed since this rivalry began in the mid-1980’s. The names are different nowadays. The game’s changed. These are the easy answers downplaying the rivalry’s significance. But for most of us, the names don’t matter. They’re big-picture irrelevant. They can change uniforms two dozen times. Won’t make a lick of difference.
The bigger constant, however, is the paranoia and anxiety of watching the same two teams play against one another for what seems like the 1000th time since they started putting ads on the boards. And there’s no irregular misery here. Both teams are equal-opportunity torturers. There is no singular villain at the battle’s apex –No Bucky Dent in this feud. No bedside dying wish for serenity. That’s what makes Rangers-Caps so damn frustrating. I’ll bet the farm Clausewitz couldn’t even theorize the ends and means of the New York-Washington struggle. The fans, however, sum it up quite easily.
“We gotta play theeeeese guys again?” thinks the cynical Rangers fan in a Bay Ridge bar, knowing full well that any road to a championship is far from paved and painted. He remembers John Druce all too well.
April 27th, 1990. Never Forget.
“Oh, man. I can’t stand him!” the morning commuter whines as she waits for the Red Line at Bethesda. She can’t forget Bob Brooke and Pierre Larouche. She wants too. She just can’t.
Tonight marks the ninth time in 29 years the Rangers and Caps get to torment their respective fanbases more than each other. And they will. They’ve done it before, and done so quite well. Don’t buy into the bragging and the crowing. We’re insecure, and for damn good reason. The favorite and underdog have split the all-time playoff series, 4-4. The 1986 Caps were good enough to challenge for a Cup? Nope. The 1990 Rangers won their first division since (in unison) 1940. No waaaaay they’re losing to the Caps.
I mean, nobody could be that confident. Were talking about hockey fans, for crying out loud. The Los Angeles Kings recently reached the Conference Finals in three straight years. The Capitals? Try three times in never, and twice in 40 years. The Rangers are barely any better. While Neil Smith was nice enough to move Heaven and Earth just to provide their fanbase with one Cup in 75 years, the majority of Ranger postseasons are the hockey equivalent of repeatedly sticking a knitting needle into a live socket.
And it’s always in the early rounds. Always. Eight series – all in the 1st or 2nd round. And don’t give me that “same division” crap. They divorced from that set-up for over a decade before reconciling in 2014. The Hockey Gods want neither fan base to walk away from a lost series with a moral victory. You lose this series; you’re the loser — a loser who failed miserably for not reaching the Conference Finals. Don’t let the post-game clichés make you think any different.
In our idealist minds, the road to a championship should be tarred, smoothed and painted. No stress. No anxiety. No nightmarish replays of overtime winners or blown calls. Gone are the blank stares, sleepless nights and aimless wandering. I mean, you actually manage to take a shower without reliving the failed power plays. Serenity?
Nope. Doesn’t work that way. You don’t walk down the stairs and see the Stanley Cup trophy waiting for you at the breakfast table, seated right there next to your father who’s drinking orange juice and eating Stella D’oro “S” cookies. No freebies here. The system is designed for you to suffer and endure, cry and whimper and yep, you guessed it…keep coming back for more.
Remember this: you can’t be a “fan” of this rivalry. Neither team has supporters who look forward to this. It’s the Tropicana Field of the postseason — old and depressing. Capitals fans don’t crow; they mumble. The Rangers? Well, when their fans aren’t busily cursing the Blueshirts for creating the other team’s playoff hero, they’re loathingly muttering.
“Please. Not Again?”
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