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Lucky fans take the Blueshirts home

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers

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Beating the Philadelphia Flyers to clinch a playoff berth is about as good as it could get for any Rangers fan on Fan Appreciation Night at The Garden, but for a lucky group of 21, it was also a chance to receive the jersey worn by a Rangers player during that remarkable 2-1 win.

After beating the Flyers on Thursday night, Henrik Lundqvist presented his game-worn jersey to this youngster, who was clearly a fan of the Rangers goalie.
For the ninth consecutive season, the regular-season home finale ended with the traditional "Blueshirts Off Our Backs" ceremony. Following the game, fans receiving jerseys lined up at the blue line, and the Rangers skated out to them. Each player gave his jersey to a fan holdingup  a sign with his name.

The game-worn jerseys that went to each fan were randomly selected from among the Rangers roster, and several of those who received the Blueshirts were randomly chosen from among fans in the stands.

Ralph Gorgone, a longtime Rangers Season Subscriber was one of the lucky fans plucked from the capacity crowd of 18,200. He received Rangers captain Chris Drury's jersey.

"I was so happy," Gorgone said of the experience. "... I've been watching the Rangers since the Bathgate days, since 1947 and up."

As was also the case last year, many recipients earned their jersey by entering and winning a contest. this season.

The 2008-09 "Blueshirts Off Our Backs" contest had two forms. For much of the season, fans were encouraged to nominate others deserving of a Blueshirt. Over the past 10 days, fans could also win jerseys by entering an online or radio-call-in contest organized by the Rangers, MSG, and 1050 ESPN Radio.

Vinny Gilardi, nominated by his friend Michelle Treglio for helping the Treglio family after Michelle's husband, John, was injured in a motorcycle accident, was the first of the 2008-09 contest winners. At a Rangers game on Dec. 29, Gilardi was asked to come to the bench between periods, and he came face to face with Rangers great Adam Graves, who informed him that he would be receiving a game-worn jersey.

"I didn't find out until I was out there on the bench. I had no idea what was going on," recalled Gilardi. "I was totally surprised, and I was shaking. I turned around and hugged Adam Graves."

On Thursday night, Gilardi once again came down to ice level as time was running out in the third period. On the ice immediately after the game, he received Blair Betts' No. 15.

"It was an awesome night. They made the playoffs. It was fantastic," Gilardi said. "I was a little upset that I missed the last two minutes of the game, but we were down there and heard the horn go off, so we knew that they had made it."

Thursday's ceremony was the second in three years to follow a playoff-clinching victory. In 2007, the Rangers beat Montreal to clinch a berth right before the "Blueshirts Off Our Backs" presentation.

"We're in the playoffs," said Gorgone, holding Drury's jersey under his arm. "I can't wait to come back next week."
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