2013 NHL Playoffs: 5 Reasons the New York Rangers Will Win Stanley Cup
2013 NHL Playoffs: 5 Reasons the New York Rangers Win Stanley Cup
New York Rangers: Stanley Cup contenders. It wasn’t such a crazy notion back in January, when the strike shortened season kicked off. Many had the Blueshirts pegged as the eventual champs, hoisting the trophy for the first time in 19 years.
During the past 14 weeks of regular season hockey, those predictions have not borne out. Those declarations, once loudly proclaimed on blogs and sports websites, are barely acknowledged. Rangers’ boosters have probably come down with a case of amnesia.
Yet, the sixth-seeded Rangers have as good a chance as any club to hoist the cup. Why? The NHL playoffs tend to abide by this dictum: the hottest club, not always the best one, advances to the Cup Finals. See ‘Exhibit A’: the 2011-2012 Los Angeles Kings.
Since the Blueshirts made two defining trades to alter the roster, it has been one of the hotter teams in the league, attaining a 10-3-1 record in the final month of the season. On paper, the Rangers have the ingredients to win the Stanley Cup: a top-tier goaltender, frontline playmaker and a stalwart defense. When the Blueshirts score first, it notched an 85.7 winning percentage, second only to the Chicago Blackhawks, winners of this year’s President’s Cup, which is given to the team that accumulates the most points during the regular season.
Overall, the Rangers are an experienced, battle-tested club. If the Rangers can generate consistent scoring and capitalize on the power play, where it gains a temporary numerical advantage because an opposing team is penalized, it can beat anyone. For the sake of specificity, here are five hardcore reasons why the Rangers will win the Stanley Cup.
Tacuma R. Roeback is a writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @TacumaRoe, “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google+
5. The Rangers Have an Identity (Again)
For most of the year, the Rangers suffered through an identity crisis. Last summer’s deal, that brought Rick Nash from the Columbus Blue Jackets for Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov (along with prospect Tim Erixson), was supposed to solve its offensive woes.
By dealing Dubinsky and Anisimov, the Rangers lost two guys who fit the way the it liked to play, physical, grind-it-out hockey. It also promoted fast-skating, offensive-minded youngsters Chris Kreider and J.T. Miller. What resulted was a shift in personnel, ill-equipped to play Head Coach John Tortorella’s system, which emphasizes hits and blocked shots. The Rangers could not defend or score.
Then April 3 occurred. The Rangers traded 40-goal scorer Marian Gaborik to the Blue Jackets for center Derick Brassard and defenseman John Moore (and right winger Derek Dorsett, who hasn’t played due to injury), along with another swap that brought Ryane Clowe from the San Jose Sharks for three draft picks.
Both moves brought much needed “jam” that it lacked with Gaborik, the one player whose attributes were stylistically opposite of what Tortorella preferred. Now, the Rangers possess line depth and the bodies to play Tortorella’s system, a style that propelled it to last year’s conference finals. By the way the team’s record before the trades was just 17-15-3, after them, 9-3-1.
4. A More Potent Scoring Attack
After trading away Gaborik, its top scorer, the Rangers got offensive. It’s counter-intuitive, I know. But consider this: since those infamous trades, the Blueshirts notched season highs in goals twice. It dropped six goals on the conference leading Pittsburgh Penguins – albeit without Sidney Crosby – on the day of the trades, matching that total two weeks later against the Florida Panthers. The team surpassed it by scoring eight times against the Buffalo Sabres, a day later.
What that amounts to is 3.79 goals per game mark since the trade. The aforementioned Penguins led the league in scoring during the regular season with a 3.38 mark. And during that scorching period, the Rangers have seen a rise in scoring from guys like Brad Richards and Ryan Callahan. The former finished out the regular season on a six-game point streak, notching five goals and 11 points, the latter on a seven-game point streak, also getting five goals and 11 points. Fan favorite, Mats Zuccarello, is also starting to find the net as well. He was a plus-2 with three goals and one assist in his last three games to close out the season. And Brassard, the new acquisition has been paying dividends, notching nine points in seven games as a Ranger.
Now the Blueshirts have what its been missing all year: depth scoring.
3. With Rick Nash, the Rangers have a Top-Tier Playmaker
The element the Rangers were missing these last few years arrived when it signed the 6-4, 213 pound playmaker last summer. While the Rangers struggled, Nash was one of the few bright spots. He has been credited with helping Richards get back on track.
While Nash is on the second line with Zuccarello and Richards, make no mistake, he is still the club’s leading playmaker. When he is on the ice, the club's chances of finding the net go up dramatically. It’s no wonder that the Rangers’ leading goal scorer finished fifth in the league in shots at 176. Said fellow winger, Carl Hagelin: “[Nash] can do everything with so much power, but at the same time he’s so calm.”
“I’ve never seen anyone do that. Everything just looks so easy, with his reach and his power. Some shifts it looks like he’s playing with kids.”
Nash’s record is long on accomplishments (nine consecutive seasons hitting the 20-goal plateau), but short on playoff experience (just four games in 2009, when his Blue Jackets got swept by the Detroit Red Wings). Nash, who is eager to extend his legacy, is critical to the Rangers playoff run. The club is at its most potent when he is shooting the puck and creating for others.
2. In “Step” and Nash, A Deadly Combo
Many had envisioned Chris Kreider as the guy who would become the next top-tier scorer for his club. While Kreider has struggled, Stepan has become the man. He is now one of the best young, two-way forwards in the game. The boy can skate, shoot and defend. The numbers speak for themselves. He led his team in scoring, notching 18 goals and 26 assists. He finished in the top five in plus/minus rating during the regular season. He not only scores and creates, he also kills penalties. He anchors the team’s top line, which includes the speedy Hagelin and Callahan. His growth as a playmaker has led to Callahan’s resurgence as a scoring threat. What’s more, he is only in his third season.
"He's a 22-year-old guy that I use in every freaking situation," Tortorella said of Stepan, according to ESPN. "He has proven to all of us that he has taken a huge step this year."
With Step’s emergence, the Rangers can counter the scoring combos of other Eastern Conference playoff foes. The Capitals have Ovechkin and Mike Ribeiro (and – gulp – Nicklas Backstrom for that matter); the Penguins have Crosby (if he ever returns) and Chris Kunitz and the Toronto Maple Leafs. Yes, the Maple Leafs, have Phil Kessel and Nazem Kadri.
The Rangers own “one-two” punch is a hot combination that can help the Blueshirts push past these other clubs.
1. There is Only One King and the Rangers Have Him
When it is all said and done, there is only one King, Rangers net-minder Henrik Lundqvist. He is the most important ingredient to the Rangers' success. And like Los Angeles Kings goalie Jonathan Quick, Lundqvist has the ability to takeover games an entire series. Quick went on an uncanny run and was his team’s most critical element when it hoisted the Stanley Cup trophy last year.
Lundqvist almost got his guys there, but the Rangers lost to the Devils in six games in the conference finals. This year wasn’t his best in terms of record, but the King was tied for the league lead with 24 wins in the regular season and was fifth in save percentage.
All indications are that Lundqvist is playing his best hockey at the right time: now. Though he finished with just two shutouts, both came in the final eight games of the season. What’s more, after 14 games, he has allowed two or fewer goals nine times. He is also the one guy who gives the Rangers a positional advantage against most of the teams in the playoffs. Perhaps, the Boston Bruins, with Tuukka Rask, and the Ottawa Senators, with Craig Anderson, are the exceptions.
Still, the Rangers have one of the best players around, at the game’s most important position.
While this year wasn’t Vezina-worthy, it could be Stanley Cup-worthy. And everyone can agree that the latter is far better than the former.