On April 7, the New York Rangers beat down the lowly New Jersey Devils in a 4-2 win at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey and clinched the Presidents’ Trophy. The Presidents’ Trophy is awarded to the team with the best overall record in the regular season and guarantees the team home ice throughout their entire playoff run. The team worked all season to secure home ice in the playoffs, and Tuesday night’s win was indicative of how the Rangers have been playing all season. They attacked the puck and used their speed and precision passing to score goals and never backed down.
Without a doubt, this is one of the best Rangers teams in the franchise’s history and it’s been a crazy road for them to get to this point. Unlike last year, when it was surprising to many that the Rangers made the Stanley Cup Finals, this year they are being picked by many analysts to go all the way. This is the first time in a long time that the Rangers are favorites to win the Stanley Cup and if they don’t reach the Finals again and win, no one will remember that they had an amazing regular season. All that will be remembered is that they fizzled out when it counted most.
Now let me be straight: it’s going to be very hard for any team to beat the Rangers four times out of seven in a playoff series. They are a team built to withstand and succeed in the battles of the playoffs. Each of their four lines has the ability to score goals and make plays, from Rick Nash, Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello all the way down to Dominic Moore, Jesper Fast and Tanner Glass. Their defense, as I’ve said before, is second to none in the league. Once Kevin Klein returns from his injury, their defense will be set for the playoffs. Sorry Matt Hunwick, you’ve played well but you are a seventh defenseman on this team. A defensive core consisting of Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh, Marc Staal, Dan Boyle, Keith Yandle and
Klein will be extremely tough to get past. But even if someone does get by them, they have the best goaltender in the game to back them up.
Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist has been playing stellar in goal since his return and has been starting to regain his form after the vascular injury that kept him out for about two months. He has done it all in this league except winning the Stanley Cup. After last season’s heartbreaking loss in the Finals, I’ll never forget seeing the image of Lundqvist with his hands over his head in the Rangers locker room, simply destroyed that the Rangers hadn’t won the Cup. This year, you can be sure Lundqvist will not want a repeat of that feeling. This year, I feel like we are going to see a version of Lundqvist that we haven’t seen before. We are going to see him fired up, focused and playing with more passion; doing all he can to bring the Cup to New York
City. The rest of the National Hockey League (NHL) should be scared.
There has been a lot of talk about who the Rangers will play in the playoffs and who they match up well against. This is the first year where it doesn’t matter to me who they play. They have proved that when they are on, they are incredibly hard to beat. Whether they will need to play rougher or play with more finesse they will get it done. As it’s looking right now, the Rangers will either be facing the Boston Bruins, the Ottawa Senators or the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round of the playoffs and each of those teams has weaknesses for the Rangers to exploit. The Bruins, while big and strong, aren’t nearly as fast as the Rangers and they can use their speed to exploit them. The Senators, while a faster team than the Bruins, don’t have much playoff experience yet and ultimately might not even get into the playoffs. But if they do, I feel their lack of playoff battles will hurt them. The playoffs are always more physical, and space is much more limited to make plays. The Penguins have shoddy defense and their goaltending situation is always an enigma come playoff time. But even with these weaknesses, no game is easy in the playoffs and each round will present different challenges along the way to the Rangers’ ultimate goal.
This New York Rangers team has the opportunity to do something special. They have the chance to be remembered and spoken about in the same breath as Mark Messier, Mike Richter and Brian Leetch. If they keep up their level of play and don’t falter from their game of speed, precision and puck possession, the New York Rangers have a very good chance of holding that 35 pound piece of metal known as the Stanley Cup over their heads this June.