"We couldn't find a cab for an hour," Nevin tried, not very hopefully. Francis growled at him. Gilbert looked the reporter in the eye and said, with a perfectly straight face, "I must admit I overslept. I couldn't get to sleep for half the night, because I was so tensed up about the game."
A few players stifled laughter, and the bus fell silent. A moment later Ron Stewart called out, "Hey, coach, aren't you gonna give Nevvy back his $2.50 for the cab fare?" This time the players did break up, and Francis joined them. The Rangers are laughing often these days. They don't seem to feel the pressure of the close race, because they are too busy enjoying all the good things that are happening to them.
In addition to the dramatic rise of Gilbert and Ratelle, New York has been pleasantly surprised by Defensemen Jim Neilson and Rod Seiling. Neilson, a willing but awkward plodder for five years, is suddenly doing everything right; he probably ranks second only to Orr among NHL defensemen, and he is a lot less prone to injury. Seiling, too docile in past trials with the Rangers, has become aggressive and often brilliant. Behind them, Eddie Giacomin has overcome a shaky start and regained his best form in the goal. "The sign of a great goalie is whether he can make the big save," Francis said. "On that basis, Eddie is tops."
Francis himself undoubtedly rates that title as far as the Madison Square Garden management is concerned. When he was made general manager four years ago, Francis was faced with the challenge of rebuilding a pitiful organization and producing a winner in time for the opening of the new Garden. The Garden opened in the middle of the present streak; the timing was perfect even if the arena is not. In fact, even the most fastidious spectator may forgive the Garden for his obstructed view as long as the Rangers keep winning. Willie Laughlin, a season-ticket holder and avid fan, rationalizes the situation: "If I lean forward in my seat and act very nice to the usher so he'll keep his head from blocking my view of the goal, I figure I can manage to miss only 20% of the action in any game. And I've resigned myself to it, because you have to figure that 80% of the kind of hockey the Rangers are playing now is a lot better than 100% of the kind we used to get."