The special relationship between the Rangers and the Garden Faithful has been well documented over the decades, but the fans' ability to help will their team back into a game has been particularly evident this season. No one is more grateful for this extra boost than the players themselves.
"We scored a couple goals in that (Ottawa) game, and all of a sudden there was this sort of a buzz in the building," said forward Matt Cullen, who joined the Blueshirts as a free agent last July and is getting his first taste of Rangers fans this season. "It's unlike any other building I've been in. The atmosphere in there is hard to describe, but it's such an exciting thing. It's kind of like having a sixth man on the ice."
Rangers fans in general, and season subscribers in particular, can pride themselves in much more than just an ability to generate high-volume cheers. Players are quick to point out that the Blueshirts' fanbase is among the most knowledgeable in the league -- just as likely to cheer for a successful penalty kill as for a big goal.
"This is one of the best crowds in the league, if not the best, because the fans are so knowledgeable," said Cullen. "But they're not knowledgeable to the point where they won't cheer. I mean, you go to some places like Montreal where the fans will get down on their team pretty quick and sort of just stop watching the game. But here the fans stay with you the whole time, and the Ottawa game was a great example."
Not only do the Rangers fans show up in force, but they exhibit a degree of passion that often catches opposing teams off guard.
"I think the crowd at the Garden makes a huge difference," said Rangers forward Adam Hall. "When they get rocking and they're cheering, that place is just deafening, I think it really intimidates opponents and sends an adrenaline rush to us as players, so it helps tip the scales in our favor, ... There's so much energy in the building that when you get the momentum, you're just playing on pure adrenaline at that point."
Like Cullen, Hall is new to the Rangers this season. Coming from Nashville, where fans were less familiar with the game, Hall says he has been amazed with the level of knowledge evident among the Rangers' fans in general and the season subscribers in particular.
"I guess you might expect it with the tradition here, but it's just incredible though to hear cheers for guys that block shots," said Hall. "They're not just cheering goals, but plays that are kind of like detailed hockey plays -- plays you wouldn't even necessarily expect other players to cheer for."
Cullen agrees that the nature of the cheering for specific plays can make a big difference.
"Stuff like that means a lot as a player," Cullen said. "Those are some of the little things that go unnoticed in the newspaper and on the TV highlights, but those are big parts of the game, and to have the fans recognize those and acknowledge that means a lot to the players."
While the fans love both the game and the team, they also tend to develop a special bond with individual players. In 2005-06, then-rookie goaltender Henrik Lundqvist
learned just what it meant to become a fan favorite, hearing chants of "Hen-rik, Hen-rik" for the first time. Those chants have since become a staple at the Garden, and Lundqvist said he is very aware of them.
"The first couple of times it happened, it was kind of hard to relax, because I got so fired up," Lundqvist said of the chants. "It really feels good."
Lundqvist said the Garden Faithful made a big impression on him from the start because they were so different from hockey fans he had encountered in his native Sweden.
"In Sweden, you'll have one area of the arena where fans are standing, sort of like soccer fans. They're cheering and singing the whole game. It's one spot in the arena where maybe there are 500 or 1,000 people who are loud all the time," Lundqvist said. "But here it's more like the whole arena is loud during games."
Rangers Vice-President of Player Personnel and Assistant General Manager Don Maloney has had a connection to Blueshirts fans for nearly 30 years as both a player and executive and has a unique perspective on the Garden Faithful. He says the crowds at MSG have always been an asset to the team.
"We always felt there was such an edge to playing in the Garden, because it was an intimidating place where the fans were loud and kind of in your face," said Maloney. " I think New York City is a little intimidating for a lot of people who aren't from here. It's the biggest city and the place where everything happens in North America. When I was playing, I knew for a fact there were visiting players from around the NHL that didn't like this city, were intimidated by this city and wouldn't want to walk down the street in this city. So there's sort of an edge to being in New York and being at the Garden."
Maloney says he still sees many faces in the arena that he remembers from his playing days.
"We're part of New York culture like the Giants and the Yankees," said Maloney. "These things are kind of passed down from father to son and on and on. The parents of kids that are coming to these games came to them once with their own parents."
As the fans themselves have remained consistent in their dedication to the team, the attitude among those in the stands also hasn't changed all that much from the 1970s and 1980s.
"These fans never sit on the fence," Maloney said. "They're going to let you know exactly what they're thinking. That's New York. If you perform, you hear about it, and if you don't perform, you hear about it."
Knowing that the fans are so hungry for a winner is a big motivation for all of the players. Lundqvist says it's just fine with him if all that great support comes with an expectation of success.
"These fans are tough, but they're honest," said Lundqvist. "If you work hard and show effort, they're very supportive. They love winners, and the best feeling out there is when you get a win, after the game is over. That's the feeling you're reaching for."