The New York Rangers beat the Montreal Canadiens 1-0 on Thursday night, in turn winning their Eastern Conference Finals series 4-2 and advancing to the Stanley Cup Final. This is undoubtedly a huge accomplishment for a Rangers unit that was on the brink of playoff elimination less than 20 days ago, but the reality is that this New York team is not prepared to beat either the Chicago Blackhawks or the Los Angeles Kings.
When it comes to the front end, the Rangers’ forward unit could be described as erratic at best, and putrid at worst. Simply put, there is no real way to know whether the likes of Rick Nash, Brad Richards, Mats Zuccarello and company will come out as the dynamic, gritty and physical unit that scored seven goals in Game 1 against the Canadiens, or as the team that has gone dormant for long stretches this season.
Sure, New York had a semi-renaissance on the power play against Montreal, going 5-of-26, but they are in for a dosage of physicality and general defensive skill that will likely stifle most offensive opportunities in the Stanley Cup.
There are certainly fewer worries for New York on defense, although a lack of true depth on this side of the puck could be an issue. Both Los Angeles and Chicago have a dynamic group of forwards that will tire the Rangers through both relentless forechecking and great puck movement, which surely will tire out the top-four defensive pair of Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh and Anton Stralman.
The Rangers have only let up 2.1 goals per game during the playoffs so far, but after 20 games they will surely begin to tire, which will put loads of pressure on Henrik Lundqvist.
Speaking of Lundqvist, there is no doubt that he will be up to the task in his first Stanley Cup Final appearance, but one man can only do so much. The 32-year-old has been great for most of the current postseason, and he will have to steal at least one or two games for the Rangers to have any chance of beating Los Angeles or Chicago. This doesn’t seem to be an impossible task, but it also isn’t a guarantee when going up against Jonathan Quick or Corey Crawford.
The Rangers have gone on a magnificent journey just to make it to the Stanley Cup Final, but there seems to be little chance they will come home with Lord Stanley’s Cup. New York is simply not as deep or talented on either the front or back end as their potential counterparts, and it will be too much to ask Lundqvist to win four games by himself.