Once again, when the New York Rangers take the ice in October, they will be subjected to the familiar taunts of "1940." After what the club accomplished this spring, however, the barbs should be less painful.
Before the Rangers were ousted by the Montreal Canadiens in the Prince of Wales Conference final Friday night, marking their 46th straight season without a sip from the Stanley Cup, they ended the much more substantial Cup dreams of Philadelphia and Washington, the NHL's second- and third-best in the regular season.
"We're mostly disappointed now, but in a couple of days we'll look back at what we accomplished and feel a lot better," defenseman Tom Laidlaw said after the season-ending 3-1 defeat here. "We're proud of our team. We're not really the most talented group of athletes in the NHL, but we sure worked hard."
The Rangers remained tough defensively right to the end. Offensively, though, they ran out of steam, managing only nine goals in the five-game series against Montreal and putting only two shots on the Canadiens' talented Patrick Roy in the third period Friday.
"We didn't score many goals against Montreal," said goaltender John Vanbiesbrouck, a Rangers hero through the regular season and playoffs. "They played well defensively, they attacked our forwards in the neutral zone and they did some things we couldn't seem to adjust to.
"But we can hold our heads high . . . We're a young team trying to establish ourselves, and we hope it will carry over. There's no reason why it shouldn't."
The Rangers gave full credit to their conquerors and wondered whether perhaps the emotional victories over the Flyers and Capitals had simply worn them down.
"The Canadiens were like bloodhounds," said left wing Don Maloney. "As soon as they got the lead, they smelled blood. I don't know if it's the banners or this building or everything that came before this game, but when they got the lead, they put us to sleep."
The team that has won the first game has prevailed in 12 of the 13 series thus far completed, and Rangers forward Pierre Larouche, a member of Montreal's Stanley Cup champions in 1978 and 1979, pointed out the importance of getting ahead early. "I said before the series started that whoever won the first game in the other team's building would win it," Larouche said.
A major problem for the Rangers was the collapse of their power play, which succeeded only twice in 24 opportunities. New York was 11 for 46 with the extra man against the Flyers and Capitals.
Montreal's penalty-killing success rate during the playoffs has been a remarkable 90.8 percent, led by Guy Carbonneau and Bob Gainey, who also were responsible for holding Larouche without a goal in the series.
"Not many people have scored against Bob Gainey and Guy Carbonneau," said Montreal defenseman Larry Robinson. "They held Hartford's [Ron] Francis line in check and they shut down the big guns in Boston, too."
The Rangers most likely ensured the continued presence of Craig Patrick as their general manager. His five-year contract is expiring and in March he seemed headed for unemployment. It was Patrick who signed center Mike Ridley as a free agent out of John Ferguson's back yard in Winnipeg, and Ridley became one of the top rookies in the NHL, leading the Rangers in scoring during the regular season. Patrick's trades worked out well, too.
Friday night, New York Coach Ted Sator walked across the ice to congratulate Montreal's Jean Perron, another rookie coach who survived a winter of criticism to savor the fruits of spring, in his case a battle for the Cup against St. Louis or Calgary. "The [Rangers'] attention to detail and work ethic have been marvelous," Sator said. "I'm bursting with pride."