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Rangers, Beware, Best Teams Don’t Win Championships: Sports Line

Warning to New York Rangers fans: History is not on your side as the club tries to turn its Presidents’ Trophy for the NHL’s best record this season into a Stanley Cup.

The best regular-season record in sports seldom means a championship. Over the past decade, only 25 percent of teams with the top regular-season record in the four major U.S. professional sports -- baseball, football, basketball and hockey -- have taken the title. More of those season-best teams lost in the first round of the playoffs than won a crown.

In hockey, two of the past 10 Presidents’ Trophy winners have captured the National Hockey League championship -- the Chicago Blackhawks in 2013 and the Detroit Red Wings in 2008.

“The difference between the upper-echelon teams and lower-echelon teams is not as great as everybody thinks,” NBC hockey analyst Pierre McGuire said on a conference call. “We have a thing in our sport that maybe, outside of soccer, nobody else has. It’s called a goalie, and is a great equalizer.”

In the NFL, two teams in a row -- the 2013 Seattle Seahawks and the 2014 New England Patriots -- have gone from a tie for the best regular-season record to a Super Bowl victory.

But that ended an eight-year run in which no team with the best record had won the title and included Super Bowl victories by the 2012 Baltimore Ravens (tied for ninth best) and 2011 New York Giants (tied for 10th best during the regular season).

The NBA also has had two straight teams go from the best record to the title in the 2013 Miami Heat and the 2014 San Antonio Spurs, after that had happened once in the previous eight seasons. The Golden State Warriors had the best record this season at 67-15, and the NBA playoffs begin this weekend.

In baseball, only the 2007 and 2013 Boston Red Sox and the 2009 New York Yankees went from the best record to a title in the past decade. In 2006, when the Yankees and New York Mets tied for the best regular-season record at 97-65, the title went to a St. Louis Cardinals team that was 13th best at 83-78.

Sports Line was in the stands at San Francisco’s AT&T Park four days ago when World Series MVP Madison Bumgarner mounted a horse to deliver the Giants’ championship flag. The Giants, who have won three titles in the past five seasons without having a top-three record in any of those years, were tied for eighth best in 2014.

Larry Baer, president and chief executive officer of the Giants, says a team’s ability to bounce back from adversity -- especially in a short series -- is a key to playoff success.

“In my mind, success in the postseason relies on a blend of factors with team culture/determination/chemistry at the top of the list,” the Harvard Business School graduate said in an e-mail to Sports Line. “Sheer talent and momentum are important but, in isolation, are not enough without the strength of the team concept.”

So the Rangers have a lot of precedent to overcome. Four of the past 10 Presidents’ Trophy winners have been upset in the first round of the playoffs. Going back a bit, seven of the past 25 Presidents’ Trophy winners, or 28 percent, went on to win the Stanley Cup.

Bettors still like the Rangers, who opened the playoffs Thursday night with a 2-1 win at Madison Square Garden against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Las Vegas-based MyTopSportsBooks.com makes the Blueshirts 11-2 favorites to win the championship.

Rangers fans can cling to one bit of history: The team won the Presidents’ Trophy in 1994, when it last won the Cup.

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Hall of Fame athletes from baseball, football and hockey will be part of an American team of golfers taking on an all-star international squad next week in Dubai.

The three-day ICONS Cup golf tournament on April 22-24 will have Fred Couples as the captain of Team USA and Darren Clarke, the 2016 European Ryder Cup captain, leading the Rest of the World team.

The American squad will include baseball Hall of Famers Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux; NFL Hall of Famers Marcus Allen and Eric Dickerson; hockey Hall of Famer Brett Hull; surfer Kelly Slater, and boxer Oscar De La Hoya.

Among the members of Clarke’s team will be former soccer players Gabriel Batistuta and Luis Figo; cricketer Shane Warne; rugby’s Mike Tindall, and five-time Olympic rowing champion Steven Redgrave.

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Tiger Woods’s score of 5 under par at the Masters has London bookmakers expecting continued improvement after they gave him only a 50-50 chance of making the cut at the season’s first Grand Slam event.

Woods, 39, who tied for 17th at Augusta National after not making a cut all year, now has 7-1 odds at the U.K.’s William Hill to win one of the three remaining majors in 2015.

William Hill has it even-money that Woods, whose 14 Grand Slam titles are second to Jack Nicklaus’s record 18, wins another major title in his career. And the oddsmaker is offering 150-1 odds that Woods will sweep the remaining three majors this year.

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- Sania Mirza this week became the first Indian women’s tennis player to be ranked No. 1 in the world in either singles or doubles. Mirza, 28, who has won three straight tournaments with partner Martina Hingis, now has 26 WTA doubles titles and a Grand Slam crown in mixed doubles at the 2009 Australian Open.

- James Harden of the Houston Rockets is the first player in NBA history to hit 200 or more 3-pointers and 700 or more free throws in one season. He finished the regular season with 208 3-pointers and a league-leading 715 made foul shots.

- Former New York Cosmos players Pele and Franz Beckenbauer will flip a switch Friday turning the lights green on the Empire State Building’s tower in honor of the team’s 2015 season opener the following day at Hofstra University against the Tampa Bay Rowdies.

- When the New Orleans Pelicans captured the final Western Conference playoff spot on Wednesday night, it marked the third time in the past 30 seasons that an NBA division sent all of its teams to the postseason. All five teams in the Southwest division -- the Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs, Memphis Grizzlies, Dallas Mavericks and Pelicans -- are playoff-bound.

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