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Rangers happy to re-join postseason party


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Rangers happy to re-join postseason party


NEW YORK (AP) - Jaromir Jagr was right. The New York Rangers are a playoff team.


The odds-on choice to be the NHL MVP shook off the doubters and said so at the start of training camp in September. Then he went out and made it happen.


His record-setting season is going to stretch longer into April as the Rangers march into the postseason for the first time since 1997.


"I was 90 percent sure we were going to make it," Jagr said after the Rangers locked up a spot Tuesday with a shootout win over Philadelphia. "I'm glad. I got what I expected. I would be very upset if we didn't make it."


For seven seasons, the Rangers were the NHL's face of mismanagement and overspending. It was because of them that many smaller-market clubs claimed they couldn't compete in the same league. Last year's lockout produced the salary cap that leveled the financial playing field for all 30 teams.


Truth is, it was New York that was noncompetitive. Payrolls that climbed into the $70-million range failed to produce anything close to a winner.


Success couldn't be bought, at least not by anyone in charge at Madison Square Garden.


"Sometimes it's too much and it's not good," Jagr said. "I felt like there were too many superstars on one team."


New York snapped the longest-running playoff drought in the league and has a three-point lead over Philadelphia in the Atlantic Division with seven games left - including one head-to-head matchup.


The Rangers aren't satisfied with just making the playoffs.


"I feel really reluctant to talk too much about it because this is only the first step in what we are trying to do and what we are trying to accomplish," general manager Glen Sather said. "There are more goals to achieve and there is a bigger picture ahead of us."


The lockout is ultimately what helped the Rangers produce a young, energetic team that clicked right away with a road win at Philadelphia on opening night.


Jagr was the established force, and the offense was complemented by fellow Czechs Martin Straka and Martin Rucinsky. Throw in veteran forward Michael Nylander and rookie Petr Prucha - who has 29 goals - and the Rangers had the makings of a potent offense, especially with new rules implemented to open up the game.


"Nobody believed we could do any damage in this league and I think that worked to our advantage," Jagr said.


The biggest addition was rookie goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who showed New York he could be a big-time player months before leading Sweden to the Olympic gold medal. Lundqvist wrested the No. 1 starting job away from Kevin Weekes and won over the home crowd.


He is the first Rangers rookie to win 30 games.


"The chemistry on the team is great, and so far it's been fun for everybody here," Jagr said.


He saw it come together quickly and boldly predicted a playoff appearance for a team other pegged for last in the league.


"I don't think you ever go into a season admitting anything to anyone that you're going to win the Stanley Cup, you're not going to make the playoffs or you are going to make the playoffs," Sather said. "I knew that they were going to be a good team as soon as we had them together in training camp."


For years, the Rangers brought in big name after big name: Pavel Bure, Theo Fleury, Eric Lindros and Alex Kovalev. All had All-Star backgrounds and their best days mostly behind them.


Jagr was an outsider when Sather plucked him out of Washington, where the five-time NHL scoring champion never got comfortable after starring with Mario Lemieux in Pittsburgh.


The move was made as a last gasp try to make the 2004 playoffs, but that flawed team never had a chance. Sather couldn't spark the team as coach and gave up that title so he could strip away the veterans and cut down the payroll.


The Rangers never seemed willing to try to sell a rebuilding phase to its fan but now they had the salary cap as an excuse.


"We kind of rolled the dice on this philosophy," Rangers coach Tom Renney said.


Jagr has bought into Renney's system of total accountability and has responded with his best season in years. He has already broken the team record for points in a season (115) and tied the team mark for goals (52).


With an 'A' on his sweater, Jagr has taken over the on and off-ice leadership from Mark Messier, who retired before this season.


He has carried New York to its first postseason berth season Messier and Wayne Gretzky teamed up nine years ago for an unlikely trip to the Eastern Conference finals. That run ended in Philadelphia in the same arena that gave this Rangers team its early boost.


"It took so much for us to be here," Weekes said. "We pretty much stripped away whatever was here before that wasn't positive, we held onto whatever was here before that was positive and we put the two together."




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The Sports Illustrated hockey preview had the Rangers finishing dead last...FUCK YOU SPORTS ILLUSTRATED...GET YER' SHIT STRAIGHT!!!!!!! :)

They also picked the Giants to go 6-10 and be dead last... we got 11-5 :TU: and a division title... FUCK YOU SPORTS ILLUSTRATED!!!

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