Knicks and Rangers Prompt Championship Visions

Call it the Spirit of 1994

| 06 May 2024 | 12:11

New York’s Knicks and Rangers charged into the second round of their respective playoff series, with two convincing wins in their respective Round 2 series. To long time fans, the excitement reminds them of 1994—not to mention the early 1960s, when both teams thrilled New Yorkers in the spring.

The Knicks took on the Indiana Pacers on May 6 with a 121-to-117 victory while the Rangers faced off against the Carolina Hurricanes and notched a 4-3 victory in game one on May 5th.

The momentum continued into the second game.

Jalen Brunson, banged up foot and all, channeled the injured Willis Reed in that Knicks team’s historic game 7 win over the Lakers 54 years ago to the day, leading to the Knick’s second NBA championship. Brunson, after missing the entire second quarter, returned for the third quarter and powered this year’s Knicks to a 130-121 win with 24 second half points. Of course, nothing will be easy as the hamstring injury to OG Anunoby suffered in Game 2 shows.

The Rangers, heading into the third playoff game in round two on the Hurricanes home ice on May 9, hold a commanding 2-0 lead, thanks to a 4-to-3 win in double overtime in Game 2.

To long time fans, the excitement reminds them of 1994—not to mention the early 1960s, when both teams thrilled New Yorkers in the spring. In 1994, The Rangers won the franchise’s first Stanley Cup championship in 54 years while the Knicks made it all the way to game seven of the championship series versus the Houston Rockets. If Knicks guard John Starks could’ve done better than shoot 2 for 18 (and miss all 11 of his three-point shots), the team would have defeated the Rockets.

But that was then. Now, the Knicks are powered by guard Jalen Brunson, who routinely scores 40+points a game and makes Knicks fans think of such past prolific scorer as the great Bernard King. He did it again in game one with 43 points. Brunson, Josh Hart and Donte DiVincenzo–all former teammates at Villanova University–have brought a winning spirit and youthful exuberance to the Knicks, a franchise which had historically been criticized for relying on quick fixes. The Knicks had had a reputation for importing incomplete offensive stars, such as Carmelo Anthony, instead of building a team of complimentary role players.

And remember, the Knicks have gotten this far without the services of Julius Randle, their second-highest scorer behind Brunson, who suffered a serious shoulder injury in January and has been sidelined ever since.

The Knicks lost two of three to Indiana during the regular season but they are the number-two seed in East and have home court advantage over number-six seed Indiana. With home court advantage, the Knicks should be able to defeat Indy when the pressure is on. If they do, they would likely have a series versus the franchise’s age-old rivals, the Boston Celtics.

I say that the Knicks, while they will be underdogs against the Celtics, can beat Boston, too, but they can’t play tentatively or scared.

Brunson has been out of this world. The Knicks can’t expect Brunson to score 40-plus points every night, though. As brilliant as Brunson has been, his teammates have to take the pressure off this rising superstar.

The Rangers’ Prospects

Meanwhile, the Rangers look even more promising than the Knicks.

The Rangers won the NHL’s Presidents’ Trophy, posting the league’s best regular-season record. The Rangers will have the home-ice advantage in every playoff series, a huge help in a sport where the fans can make so much noise and create havoc for an opponent.

Yes, the Rangers did amass only three points more than the Carolina Hurricanes during the season. Clearly, this series looks like an even match.

Still, the Rangers have a championship look about them. The team is deep, well balanced and playing well from top to bottom. Artemi Panarin has emerged as a superstar, and the Hurricanes cannot boast a comparable scoring threat night after night.

The Rangers also have Igor Shesterkin in goal–which gives the Blueshirts an immediate edge over any team that it may face in the playoffs. Shesterkin is playing at his peak. And at his best, he is the best goalie in the NHL.

What separates hockey from other sports is the goaltenders’ ability to influence a game’s outcome singlehandedly. True, a baseball pitcher can dominate a game, too, but pitchers nowadays only last for five or six innings before giving way to a bullpen. On the other hand, a goalie plays the entire game and has more to say about the result than any skater does.

The Ranger player to watch for the rest of this series will be defenseman Adam Fox. Fox, a native of Jericho on Long Island who grew up a Ranger fan, acts as the Rangers’ unofficial quarterback, especially when the Rangers have a man advantage. Fox has demonstrated an uncanny ability to make a dynamic pass or score a goal by himself.

If Carolina tries to outmuscle the Rangers, the ‘Canes risk being sent to the penalty box. This could prove costly as the Rangers have one of the NHL’s most potent power plays.

If the Rangers continue to play at their best level, they should defeat Carolina handily. If the Knicks do the same versus Indiana, they’ll march to the next round against the hated Celtics. Of course, with Mitchell Robinson out for the series and OG battling hamstring problems, nothing will be easy. But the Knicks have proven to be scrappy and resilient.