The first-place New York Rangers sat in the visitors’ locker room in Montreal before taking the ice against the Canadiens and cheered for the football team that is lighting up the skyline back home.
Forward Mike Rupp said he taped his sticks and dressed for the Jan. 15 game at the Bell Centre while watching the New York Giants’ 37-20 second-round National Football League playoff victory over the defending-champion Green Bay Packers.
The Rangers have 29 wins through 45 games, their best start since the 1993-94 National Hockey League season. Tomorrow, a day before the Giants face the San Francisco 49ers for a spot in the Super Bowl, the Rangers meet the defending Stanley Cup-champion Boston Bruins, another club succeeding in the shadow of an NFL playoff team, the New England Patriots.
“When you’re playing in a city and that city’s football team is doing well, you root for them,” Rupp, 32, said in an interview. “The Super Bowl is the biggest thing going, it’s pretty awesome to be in the city and share that.”
The Giants play the 49ers at Candlestick Park in San Francisco at 6:30 p.m. New York time on Jan. 22, hours after the Patriots host the Baltimore Ravens in the American Football Conference championship at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts. The winners meet in the Super Bowl on Feb. 5.
The Eli Manning-led Giants, Super Bowl champs four years ago, have become the sports focus of New York. The Empire State Building, the tallest structure in the city’s skyline, will light its tower in Giants’ blue tomorrow and on game day, as it has on previous playoff weekends.
The New York Post has featured the Giants on its front or back pages 20 of the last 22 days. Such appearances for the Rangers -- zero.
That’s fine with Brian Boyle, a 27-year-old forward for New York.
“It’s good for the Giants and it keeps the pressure off of us,” he said.
Tomorrow’s game at TD Garden in Boston matches the Eastern Conference’s top two teams in the standings and top two defenses. The Bruins have allowed two goals per game and the Rangers 2.02. Boston also leads the league in goals scored per game, with 3.54.
“We’re way behind them in that category,” Rupp said. “You always want to use these games as a measuring stick.”
The Bruins won the Stanley Cup last season for the first time in 39 years. Their success this year has been partially overshadowed by the Tom Brady-led Patriots, the AFC’s top seed and in the conference championship game for the sixth time in 11 seasons.
Days of Orr
Liam Fittz, a 46-year-old Boston native and Bruins fan, said the hockey team’s recent title has placed it on par with baseball’s Red Sox in popularity, still behind the Patriots.
“I compare it to the Bobby Orr days” of the early 1970s when the Bruins last won the Stanley Cup prior to 2011, Fittz said. “I see it with my 9-year-old who’s on a select team now and I’m in a rink five days a week. The impact has been huge.”
The Giants won three of their final four regular-season games to clinch the NFC’s East division playoff spot on the final weekend with a 9-7 record. They beat the Atlanta Falcons in the first round of the playoffs then upset the Packers, who finished the regular season 15-1 and were favored by Las Vegas sports books to repeat as Super Bowl champions.
The Rangers lost their first three games and six of the first nine. Since then, they’ve won five straight games four times and sit alone atop the Eastern Conference.
Support for the Giants has the Rangers excited about a possible playoff berth, defenseman Ryan McDonagh said.
“You’re definitely seeing a lot more Giants jerseys,” McDonagh, who played football at Cretin-Derham Hall High School in St. Paul, Minnesota, said in an interview. “You get that vibe that it’s a big city, but it’s a sports town -- a sports town that really takes pride in their teams, and it’s fun to be a part of that.”
The Rangers’ 3-2 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers in the Jan. 2 Winter Classic outdoor game was seen by an average 3.7 million viewers, making it the fifth-most-watched regular-season NHL game since 1975, according to NBC. The Giants’ victory over the Packers drew an average of 45.1 million, the most-watched U.S. television show since the Super Bowl last February, the NFL said in a statement.
Not all Rangers fans are able to watch their team’s success. Due to a dispute with Madison Square Garden Co. over fees charged to carry programming, Time Warner Cable Inc. has dropped the MSG Network, leaving roughly 2.8 million subscribers without coverage of the National Basketball Association’s Knicks, and the NHL’s Rangers, New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils.
The Giants have earned the attention they’ve received, McDonagh said. The Rangers have 37 games remaining in the regular season.
“We’ve still got a long way to go to even make the playoffs like the Giants,” said McDonagh, the nephew of former Chicago Bears quarterback Steve Walsh. “It’s something that we’re striving for and it’s great to see them doing well.”