Rangers join ranks of N.Y.'s unlikely finalists

It is rare, though not totally unusual for a New York sports team to be an unlikely finalist, as these 2014 Rangers have been.

The Rangers, who finished with the 12th-most points in the NHL and fifth-most in the Eastern Conference are the latest unlikely finalist among the cities teams.

Here’s a look back at some of the most notable ones of the last half-century.

2007 and 2011 Giants

Both of the recent New York Giants Super Bowl champions make this list, as neither ranked among the best teams in the NFL during the regular season.

The 2007 team started 0-2, won six in a row, then split the next eight games to finish 10-6, good for second place in the NFC East and the No. 5 seed in the playoffs. That meant they’d have to win three straight games on the road to get to the Super Bowl, which they did by beating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Dallas Cowboys, then stunning the Green Bay Packers, 23-20 at Lambeau Field in the NFC Championship Game.

Where are the 1968 Jets?

The Giants Super Bowl opponent was a 16-0 New England Patriots team that they’d kept it close with before losing in the regular-season finale. They would win that game, as well, 17-14, helped by an astounding catch by David Tyree and a late touchdown pass from Eli Manning to Plaxico Burress.

The 2011 Giants would go 9-7, taking the NFC East by winning three of their final four games. Again, the road to the Super Bowl would require multiple road wins, and after a 24-2 victory over the Atlanta Falcons, the Giants would pull off a pair of shockers, beating the Packers and San Francisco 49ers to advance to the Super Bowl. Again, they would play the Patriots close throughout, and they’d win this one 21-17, by outscoring the Patriots 12-0 in the final 26 minutes

1998-99 Knicks

The Knicks went 27-23 in the regular season, good enough to earn the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference by one game and there was talk that Jeff Van Gundy could be fired if the Knicks lost to the top-seeded Heat.

The Knicks would stun the Heat in five games on Allan Houston’s basket with less than a second remaining, sweep the Hawks in four straight games in the conference semifinals, then shock the Central Division champion Pacers in six games in the conference finals.

They would be overmatched by the Tim Duncan and David Robinson-led Spurs in the NBA Finals, falling in five games.

1978-79 Rangers

The Rangers finished third behind the New York Islanders and Philadelphia Flyers during the regular season with a respectable 40-29-11 record, but upset both of those teams in the playoffs (after dispatching the Los Angeles Kings in what was then known as the best-of-three preliminary round.

Those Rangers were carried largely by the play of their goalie, 25-year-old John Davidson, who held the Islanders and Flyers to fewer than two goals per game, and 20-year-old rookie Don Maloney, who scored seven goals and 20 points in 20 games.

The magic would run out after the Rangers beat the Montreal Canadiens in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals. Canadiens goalie Ken Dryden would outplay Davidson in winning the next four games and the last title of his illustrious career.

1973 Mets

The Mets were in last place in the NL East as late as Aug. 30 and in fourth place with 11 games to go, but got hot at the right time. Sparked by their closer Tug McGraw’s rallying cry of “Ya Gotta Believe!” the Mets closed by winning 21 of their final 29 games to clinch the NL East on the season’s final day with an 82-79 record (then the worst for a division champ).

They stunned a Reds team that won 99 regular-season games that had future Hall of Famers Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench and Tony Perez in a five-game NLCS to advance to the World Series.

The high point for these Mets was Game 5 of the World Series against the Oakland Athletics, as they won (with McGraw closing the game) to go up 3 games to 2. The Athletics would beat Tom Seaver and Jon Matlack in the next two games for their second of three straight championships.

1969 Mets

The Mets were 100-to-1 shots to win the World Series, as they’d never finished any better than 16 games under .500 in any of their first seven seasons.

But they rallied from a deficit that grew as large as 10 games by mid-August, finishing the season on a 38-11 tear, with pitchers Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman leading the way.

Even though the Mets won 100 games that year, they were not expected to win the World Series against the Baltimore Orioles after sweeping the Atlanta Braves in the NLCS. But after losing Game 1 in Baltimore, they won four straight, making household names of defensive heroes Tommie Agee and Ron Swoboda and offensive star, light-hitting Al Weis. To this day, the team is still known as the Miracle Mets, as they epitomize the idea that anything can happen.