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Lupica: Rangers lead New York's spring sports awakening

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Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers once again wake New York City from its winter slumber.Alex Trautwig/Getty Images

Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers once again wake New York City from its winter slumber.

The Rangers have been doing this since they made their run all the way to the last Friday night of the Stanley Cup Final in Los Angeles, reminding not just their fans of the way things used to be for them, but reminding the rest of us what it is like around here when one of our teams has a real chance to do something in sports.

The Rangers have been doing it for more than a year now. The Mets haven’t even done it for a couple of weeks. Still: Their fans have suffered since the bat was resting on Carlos Beltran’s shoulder in Game 7 of the 2006 National League Championship Series the way Rangers fans suffered when their team missed the playoffs seven straight years between 1998 and 2004.

It is eight years for Mets fans, some of the worst in the history of the team. But this week they were winning a bunch of games at Citi Field as the Rangers were setting out to once again throw another charge into the whole city, entering the playoffs this time as the best team in their league. So the circumstances of the two teams are as different as their sports are.

We were still talking about winning in New York this week, after what has felt like such a long season of losing, in everything; when there has been so much talk, really since the Giants won their last Super Bowl, about how New York has become a second-rate power in sports.

Nobody is saying for sure this will all last with the Mets. Too much can happen. Too much HAS happened to them. Of course it is the Rangers who carry the thing right now, make New York feel like more of a hockey place than it has been since the spring of ’94, when it was Messier and Leech and Richter and them. But there was still winning to talk about in New York this week, and it felt very good and, by all means, put the Islanders in there, too, as they try to remember past glory in their last year in that famous old hockey barn in Hempstead.

It all happens, remember, after two straight years when the Yankees didn’t make the playoffs, three straight years when the Giants didn’t make the playoffs, all the years when Rex Ryan stopped making the playoffs before he shuffled off to Buffalo. This happens after the worst season in the history of the New York Knicks, when they were a game away from the worst record in the NBA.

So we had that going for us, after the pro football season we had, one saved only by Odell Beckham Jr., and after another dreary baseball season. This all happened here after a decade in Boston when all four of their teams — Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics, Bruins — won at least one championship, and made that city look like the capital of American sports.

And, as always, think about what they would be saying in that city about this city if Eli hadn’t thrown the ball around the way he did in a couple of Super Bowls against the Patriots. Imagine what they’d be saying if Belichick and Brady had now won six Super Bowls together instead of four.

The Mets, built around the talent and the star power of Matt Harvey, have played only 12 games. The Rangers, who have their own star in Henrik Lundqvist? It feels as if they have been grinding toward a Stanley Cup for the last 12 months, even if they have now just played two first-round games against the Penguins. All the Mets have done, starting the way they have, is give their fans some hope.

The bar is set much higher for the Rangers, because this is more their town right now than anybody else’s, their fans are convinced that this is their time.

They know what it was like last spring, the three overtime losses in Los Angeles, two of them in double overtime, a five-game series that felt like so much more than that. They know what it was like when the Final came back to the Garden, how full of noise and life and memory in Game 3, except that it was 3-0 for the Kings that night, and just like that, after all the waiting since 1994, their team was down 3-0.

Their fans are as good as we have. They know what the playoffs are like in their sport, know that if the Rangers can get on the kind of roll behind Lundqvist that they did a year ago, it can happen to somebody else this time. They know that winning the Presidents’ Cup isn’t winning the Stanley Cup.

This is still such a fine time to be a Rangers’ fan. This is their time, with maybe two whole months of the season to go. Mets fans just had a small taste this week, with 150 games to go. They want what Rangers fans have, not just one April winning streak. This was just a good start for them, at a time when the Rangers want to be finishers.

At least there was winning to talk about this week, after what feels like the longest losing streak we’ve ever had, when sometimes it felt as if the whole town had turned into the Knicks.

Barry good A-Rod, Jordan or Rory? And we remember Boston…

The bar is set much higher for the Rangers, because this is more their town right now than anybody else’s, their fans are convinced that this is their time.

It is somehow fitting, and perhaps even poetic, that destiny brought Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez together last winter, just because Bonds will always believe he could have still hit in the late innings of his career the way Rodriguez is this April if somebody had given him a job.

But if Bonds had hit the way Rodriguez is hitting right now, that wouldn’t have been a morality play, either.

The story with Rodriguez was simple coming out of spring training, if anything can ever be simple with him:

He could still get around on fastballs, or he couldn’t, and right now he can, in a big way.

He’d either turn out to be a $ 60 million scrub, or he would not.

Now you wonder if HE ever wonders how differently things might have gone for him if he’d just taken his original suspension, if he hadn’t lied and sued and attacked his way through the late summer and fall of 2013 — back when you were supposed to believe that the whole thing was a witch hunt — and been back playing for the Yankees last season.

But then you wonder how many things Rodriguez, who’s gone from being victimized to just grateful for the opportunity now, wishes he had done differently.

You know the one in sports about how two teams don’t like each other?

The Red Sox and the Orioles don’t like each other.

Friday night Pablo Sandoval took out Jonathan Schoop with a hard slide, not long after that Ubaldo Jimenez, without a warning, hit Sandoval with a pitch that wasn’t all that far from Sandoval’s head and got ejected.

Buck Showalter called the ejection “professionally embarrassing” when it was over.

And the two teams still have 17 games left this season.

So, you know, stay tuned.

While Jordan Spieth was making the Masters as memorable as he did, from wire to wire, it is worth pointing out that over the last 45 holes the world’s No. 1, Rory McIlroy, was 15-under par.

The great Dan Jenkins asked a pretty interesting question last Sunday at the Masters:

If you were buying stock, right now, would you invest in Spieth or would you invest in McIlroy?

Phil Jackson now has to stop trying to appease the basketball gods he’s always tweeting about and appease paying customers at Madison Square Garden instead.

Because those paying customers gave Jackson and his basketball team the biggest pass in New York sports history this season.

The final episode of “Justified” last Tuesday night was merely perfect.

And by the way?

The trailer for the new “Star Wars” movie that comes out this Christmas, the one that ended with Harrison Ford, wasn’t too bad, either.

Now that Hillary Clinton is dining at Chipotle, I’ve got a bunch of places back home in New Hampshire where she can eat cheap and mingle.

I can email them if she wants.

Well, wait.

I feel as if I’m on pretty safe ground adding that goober, Mitch McConnell, to my friend Mr. Imus’ list of people he wouldn’t trust to walk his dog.

It isn’t just the Cubs who want Kris Bryant to hit at Wrigley the way he did all spring.

Baseball wants the same thing, wants this kid to be a masher who can hit home runs and who fans want to pay to see do that.

You know what everybody hopes for in the NFL draft?

They hope that they’ll get an Odell Beckham Jr. this time.

You are aware, right, that Steph Curry made 77 straight three-pointers in practice the other day, right?

The best story to come out of that golf foursome with Michael Jordan, Tom Brady, Keegan Bradley and Luke Donald is this one:

Keegan and Brady had a side match, and Keegan was giving him a bunch of strokes, and won the first hole easily, and immediately started chirping on Brady, because any group with Michael includes a lot of chirp.

The quarterback of the Super Bowl champs then proceeded to play the next 14 holes in 4-under par, like it was still the fourth quarter against the Seahawks.

Kevin Durant finds out, still pretty early in his career, how fast things change in sports, and how you can sometimes get whiplash watching the parade pass you by.

If it is the Rangers and the Islanders in the second round, the way the Islanders played them earlier in the season is still relevant, right?

There were times last Sunday when I was about as lucky finding golf balls on the Masters telecast as I often am finding my own golf balls.

Those aren’t at-bats for Bartolo Colon.

Those are theme-park rides.

We celebrate life again on Monday in Boston with the Boston Marathon, and mourn the dead of the Marathon of 2013.

Mostly we celebrate those who had limbs blown off by the bombs set by the Tsarnaev Brothers and have still made themselves symbols of life and courage and triumph.

It will always be the most famous road race in this world, but has become something more now:

A reminder of how no one is safe in a dangerous world, but also another reminder of how the worst in the world still brings out the best in this country.

* * *

“Lupica” can be heard Monday through Friday at 1 p.m. and Sunday at 9 a.m. on ESPN 98.7.

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