Since the end of the 2005 NHL lockout, the New York Rangers have made the playoffs every season except one. They’ve had teams that went into the postseason hot at the right time, only to falter against elite teams as far as the second round of the playoffs. Two years ago, they had what many thought was a Cup-caliber team as the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, only to lose in the Eastern final to the New Jersey Devils.
This season, however, has a different feel to it.
Heading into the final four games of the season, the Rangers are 7-2-1 in their last 10 games, a tough shootout loss to the Colorado Avalanche Thursday night notwithstanding. They have a cushion of four points in the race for second place in the Metropolitan Division. Barring a monumental collapse, the Rangers appear poised to head into the playoffs with home-ice advantage in the first round.
With the exception of probably the Boston Bruins, the Rangers match up well against and are capable of beating any Eastern Conference team. They have two potential game-breaking forwards in Martin St. Louis and Rick Nash, grizzled veterans with playoff experience such as Brad Richards, and assuming he returns healthy from injury, an elite game-breaking defenseman in Ryan McDonagh. St. Louis, in particular, is poised for a monster postseason.
Their fourth line is playing as good as any team’s fourth line in the league right now, and dominant fourth-line play has keyed teams that have made noise in the playoffs in years past. Just ask the Rangers’ fourth line against the Devils in 2012.
Oh, and having Henrik Lundqvist in net doesn’t hurt either.
This Rangers team is constructed differently from the grind-it-out, wait for a mistake from the other team mentality of years past. Under coach Alain Vigneault, the team is more focused on offense and puck possession, and less focused on not making mistakes.
What’s more, they look prepared mentally and have the pieces in place to make noise.
This does not mean the Rangers are perfect, however. The team lacks sufficient physicality, which will be fatal against teams like Boston should they have to face them down the road. Right now, the power play is performing as bad as it has all season long, and the team continues to make mind-boggling defensive mistakes at times.
Of course, no championship team is without some kind of flaw in their game. For the Rangers, they’d better hope their flaws do not rear their ugly head at the wrong time.
If they don’t, however, expect a special spring on Broadway.