After watching his opponent hoist the Stanley Cup right in front of him for the second time in his pro career, Alain Vigneault returned to Madison Square Garden with his Rangers not to play a Game 6, as hoped, but to clean out their lockers for the summer.
Naturally, with two Final losses now weighing heavily on his mind, the head coach couldn’t help but conflate both experiences, and in trying to explain a Stanley Cup Final series that felt a great deal more competitive than most that end in five, he took the approach of contrasting it with the Canucks’ loss.
Then, according to Rangers beat writer Andrew Gross, he said a truly wacko thing: that the 2014 Rangers were closer.
AV says 2014 #NYR closer to winning Cup than his 2011 Canucks, who took Bruins to Game 7 of Cup Final.
— Andrew Gross (@AGrossRecord) June 16, 2014
Naturally, Canucks fans balked at Vigneault’s comparison, and for good reason: it’s crazy talk. You get the sense that 2010 Alain Vigneault would have responded to 2014 Alain Vigneault’s comparison the same way he responded to a question about Kyle Wellwood playing like a man possessed, or Vernon Fiddler’s Kevin Bieksa impression.
The 2011 Canucks, a modern-day NHL juggernaut until they came apart at the end, fell one win short. The Rangers, meanwhile, were lucky to be there, and equally lucky not to get swept.
The only thing these two teams have in common, to my mind, is that neither could beat the Boston Bruins. Fortunately, the Rangers didn’t have to, since Montreal eliminated them this time around, which is why they were in the Cup Final at all. How could Vigneault say they were closer?
Simply, he couldn’t. And, despite a few stories — all built around Gross’s tweet and not Vigneault’s quote — reporting that he did, well, he didn’t. Here’s Vigneault’s full quote, from the the New York Daily News:
“I think we really put our best foot forward. For me it’s my second opportunity to compete in the Final. Both were very different,” Vigneault said at the Rangers’ breakup day in Greenburgh. “You might want to believe that going to Game 7 we were closer then, but if I look at that experience, when we got to Game 7 . . . we had so many injuries and there wasn’t much left in our tank. And if you look at that series, the three games we played in Boston, we had no chance. We got blown out all three times.
“I look at this team here and what this group did, our best game that we played was the game we lost, 3-0, at home. Every game (in Los Angeles) there we led, we played hard, we tried our best, but we lost in five.”
This is, I think we can agree, a far cry from what Gross’s tweet suggested he said.
At most, Vigneault was suggesting the Rangers looked, to him, more like a team capable of winning four Cup Final games, and that’s not unreasonable.
The 2014 Final was a weird one, with two massive LA comebacks and three overtime games. In the end, the Kings got all the big goals and breaks, which is what’ll happen when you’re the better team, but you can understand how many, Vigneault included, viewed this series as close. While it could have ended in a sweep, the Rangers could just as easily have been playing Monday night with a chance to close it out in their favour.
The Canucks, meanwhile, fell apart completely after Dan Hamhuis got hurt in Game 1, and while Roberto Luongo was able to steal Game 2 for them, it was clear the team was out of gas when the series moved to Boston for Game 3. Luongo did it again in Game 5, which is why the Final went seven, but the Canucks probably only deserved to win one game, where is where Vigneault’s Rangers ended up.
Vigneault is hardly saying these Rangers came closer than those Canucks. They obviously and quantifiably didn’t. He’s just saying, while the circumstances of both teams and Finals were very different, the Rangers felt similarly close.
That doesn’t make for much of a headline, however, so let’s just pretend he said the more incendiary thing. It’s more fun that way.