David Schantz, Staff Writer
Two weeks ago, this debate would have been a moot point. The New York Rangers were quite arguably the best team in the NHL and seemed destined for their best season in years. Meanwhile, the Knicks were wallowing in mediocrity with an 8-15 record and were about to lose stars Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony to personal issues and injury, respectively.
It had been a largely disappointing season to date for the Knicks, one characterized by poor defense and impotent offense. There was too little chemistry and too much frustration.
Flash forward to today and the Rangers are still one of the best teams in the NHL. But the emergence of Jeremy Lin has vaulted the Knicks into the national spotlight, all while leaving the Rangers in the dust.
On Feb. 4, the legend was born: Lin came off the bench to record 25 points and seven assists in a winning effort against the New Jersey Nets.
From that game on, Lin's legacy has only grown. He scored more points in his first four starts than any other player since the NBA/ABA merger in 1977, out-dueled Kobe Bryant, hit a game-winning shot to sink the Toronto Raptors and beat the defending champion Dallas Mavericks.
Lin's story is as captivating as it is improbable. It is a true underdog story about a humble, hard-working individual who made the most of the opportunities presented to him. Lin has been calm and cool both on and off the court, winning scores of fans in the process.
Quite simply, no athlete or team has received more attention in the past few weeks than Lin and the Knicks.
Even Osi Umenyiora of the Super Bowl Champion New York Giants admits that the Knicks have become the toast of the town. In an interview with ESPN, Umenyiora stated, "There's nothing like when the Knicks are winning … It's a really a special time."
If Lin can supersede the Super Bowl Champions in popularity, then it is hard to imagine him being beat out by a hockey team.
To put it bluntly, basketball is simply more relevant and popular than hockey. It was born in America and we are proud of it. And despite growing competition from abroad, America still has by far the best basketball players in the world.
Combine this popularity with a feel-good underdog story, the basketball-mecca that is Madison Square Garden and the revival of one of the most storied franchises in the NBA, it's no wonder that Lin's story has taken off like it has.
Now if this debate were about which team was better, then the Rangers would most likely come out on top, having put together a consistent and dominating season thus far. But just as this debate was a moot point two weeks ago, it is likewise today. Lin has overshadowed every athlete in the sporting world and shows no sign of slowing down.
Brian McCormack, Staff Writer
"We're over here! Down the other hallway at MSG!"
In case you were wondering, that would be the New York Rangers, first in the Eastern Conference, trying to get just one anchor on ESPN's SportsCenter to swivel their chairs and banter in their direction.
And while the nation, the city and the cover of Sports Illustrated glorify an exceptional feel-good story on Broadway for a sub-.500 team, the New York Rangers are having their most successful season since 1996.
LINsanity? How about LUNsanity? Henrik Lundqvist – the Rangers starting goaltender since 2004 and a three-time Vezina Trophy finalist – is enjoying his best season yet, running away with his first Vezina and perhaps competing for MVP honors. Only four goalies have won the Hart Trophy since 1962 – Dominik Hasek has twice.
Lundqvist ranks first in the National Hockey League in save percentage and shutouts, second in goals against average and fourth in wins. Lundqvist blanked the Devils on Monday for his seventh straight 30-win season, breaking his own record for consecutive 30-win seasons to start a career. Lundqvist was drafted 205th overall out of Sweden in the 2000 NHL Draft's final round – not a bad Cinderella story either, is it?
And what about the other Blueshirts?
Dan Girardi, who came to the Rangers as an undrafted free agent in 2005, worked his way up through the East Coast Hockey League and American Hockey League to make the Ranger roster in late 2006 and has become one of the premier shutdown defenseman in the NHL.
This year Girardi made his first All-Star appearance, leads the league in average ice time, is third in blocked shots and sixth among defenseman in hits. Not bad.
Overall, this entire roster is what Ranger fans in the metro area have clamored for over the last decade. They're young – the average age is 27 – they're tough and they have a coach in John Tortorella who has brought the kind of no-nonsense mentality that appeals to New York.
They also have the comfort of knowing that they have relied most heavily on homegrown talent.
Michael Del Zotto, exiled in his sophomore season as a defensive liability, has returned to lead the NHL in plus-minus and has 32 points through 57 games. Ryan McDonagh is a first-unit D-man.
Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards have proven to be the right free-agent additions to this young core to make the Rangers a team ready to win now, despite pundit opinions over the summer.
The Rangers have filled Madison Square Garden this year to 99.9 percent capacity and with their combined road attendance, the Rangers have sold out to 103 percent arena capacity this year – the best in the NHL.
While SportsCenter shoves photos of Jeremy Lin's couch in our face and dedicates 20 minutes to the best Lin pun – Linstigator? Really? – the rest find their own way to enjoy the East's best and the Rangers' best shot at a parade in almost 20 years.
New York's best-kept secret? That is absolutely Linsane.