Remember just a couple weeks ago, when the New York Rangers appeared to be well on their way out of the Stanley Cup Playoffs? Down 3-1 against the Pittsburgh Penguins, and looking beyond inept offensively, it certainly looked like the offseason was just one game away for New York.
Flash forward to today, where the Rangers are still kicking, and doing so with a vengeance. After rallying for three straight wins to eliminate Pittsburgh, New York now holds a 2-0 series lead over the Montreal Canadiens in the Eastern Conference Finals. The team has won five straight, and each victory has been pretty convincing to say the least.
The stunning turnaround leaves many to ask just exactly what happened with the Rangers. What caused New York to go from sleepwalking on ice to looking like the most dangerous team in the playoffs? What lit the fire under this club that caused them to go from focusing on offseason plans to being two games away from the Cup Finals?
You could say it was the tragic passing of veteran Martin St. Louis’ mother two weeks ago. The team rallied behind their grieving teammate, playing inspired hockey in every game since. At the same time, it’s a bit tough to believe the team is still using this as a rallying cry. I doubt St. Louis wants to continue having everyone focusing on such a tough loss longer than necessary.
So if not this, then what? What’s caused New York to play to their full potential for five straight resounding victories?
Perhaps being backed into the corner as they were against Pittsburgh forced them to play like their lives depended on it. Sometimes teams see such a huge series deficit and it becomes too much to overcome. This wasn’t the case for the Rangers, who, one game at a time, scratched and clawed their way back until eventually slamming the door on the Penguins.
Such a huge comeback can do wonders for a team that was once flirting with disaster. It gives an incredible amount of hope that nothing is out of the question. The comeback over Pittsburgh convinced the Rangers that, if they can climb out of a 3-1 hole so convincingly, they can do anything.
It certainly appears to be doing the trick for New York. Somehow, the Rangers scored more goals in Game 1 against Montreal than they did in the first four games combined against Pittsburgh. Goalie Henrik Lundqvist is playing like an absolute beast, having only allowed more than one goal once in the past five games. Heck, even Rick Nash, who was battling an offensive slump that was uglier than sin, has scored twice in the past two games.
Even more surprising than the Rangers’ performance as a whole is the fact that they’ve done this well at the Bell Centre, one of the league’s most difficult arenas to play in. They took a two game lead in an incredibly hostile environment, and now come back to Madison Square Garden with undeniable momentum.
We’ll see if New York will be able to maintain this winning streak. Montreal is a tough team, and came into the series playing well, but they’re also missing their best player in Carey Price. One thing’s for sure though: in the span of two weeks, the Rangers have gone from the verge of elimination to looking like the best team in the playoffs. Who knows what exactly caused the monstrous turnaround, but what we do know is New York has suddenly become a legit Cup favorite.