The Rangers find themselves in the playoffs for the fourth straight year, but will this be the year they make it to the Cup?
The New York Rangers 45-31-6 record was good enough to earn them 96 points and second in the Metropolitan Division. This put them in the playoffs for the fourth straight season and their eighth appearance in the last nine seasons. However, this is the first season the Rangers will be in the playoffs under new head coach, Alain Vigneault.
This season the Rangers showed that under Vigneault’s new system they can produce more offensively, but also found themselves in dry spells during the season where scoring was at a premium and they needed to rely heavily on their defense and goaltending. Despite making the playoffs eight of the last nine years, the Rangers have not made it to the Stanley Cup Final and reached the Eastern Conference Final only once in that span in the 2010-2011 season. If the Rangers want to make a Cup run, a few different things need to happen. The goaltending of Henrik Lundqivist and lockdown defense will be there like it has been all season, but there are multiple question marks on the offensive side of the puck that will make or break New York’s chances.
The Rangers have had some of the best special teams play in the NHL this season. Their penalty kill was third best in the league at 85.3 percent and the power play was top ten for a majority of the season, but tapered off towards the end and fell to fifteenth at 18.2 percent. The Rangers are going to need to continue their success on the penalty kill and bring the power play back to its mid-season form in the playoffs if they want to succeed. One of the biggest problems in recent years for the Rangers has been their inability to score on the power play. It has not only cost them multiple regular season games, but has been a major problem in the playoffs. The Rangers are always solid in five on five play, their 1.07 goals for versus goals against average was tenth best in the league this year, but their dreadful power play numbers have lost them series in year’s past. If they are able to figure out their power play problems and make it more of a help than a hindrance in the playoffs they will be in a much better position to win games.
A good power play starts with the top performers on a team producing, and that has been a problem for the Rangers down the stretch. One issue the Rangers have that not many other playoff teams do is the fact that they don’t truly have a number one scoring line. This is because top six forwards like Rick Nash and Brad Richards have been wildly inconsistent this season. Even Martin St. Louis, brought in because of his ability to score, has had a difficult time finding the back of the net since becoming a member of the Rangers.
The Rangers can only rely on the scoring of third and fourth liners like Dominic Moore and Benoit Pouliot to win them games for so long. When the Rangers face teams in the playoffs that are solid defensively from top to bottom, those players will get shut down more often and purer scorers like Richards, Nash and St. Louis will need to be the ones scoring in clutch situations. This is not to say that having secondary scorers like Moore and Pouliot are a bad thing to have, but it is when they are the only ones scoring, and where problems will arise for the Rangers. The top Rangers lines need to start producing at a more consistent level in the playoffs if they have any hope of making a deep run.
And last but certainly not least, the Rangers need to close out their first series early. Far too often the Rangers find themselves in seven game series in the quarterfinals and semifinals of the playoffs, which tire them out against teams who have played fewer games in their respective opening round matchups. Obviously it’s better to play the least amount of games possible, but this is particularly important in a series against the archrival Philadelphia Flyers which will be extremely physical and taxing on the Rangers’ players. If their first round series goes to seven games and the Rangers win they will be in trouble against their next opponent in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, hindering their chances.
The Rangers have the defense and goaltending to make a Cup run and have for quite some time. Whether or not the offense produces, the power play delivers and they keep their series short will determine whether or not the Rangers make the Stanley Cup a reality.