Heroes can be found throughout the entire playoffs for each team, but most importantly, they are found in the Stanley Cup Finals. Every team can point to a time or place in each of their playoff journeys and mark out when that was the defining moment that shaped their Stanley Cup run. Whether it was a fluky goal, a breakaway, a huge stop in net or something that sparked a series comeback, each team’s path to the Finals has had a hero or leader to carry them through their struggles. That is why it is important to review how each team got here and how each hero or moment could have sparked, or potentially will spark, a Stanley Cup Finals victory. Second, in this two-part series is: the New York Rangers.
How They Got Here: The Rangers journey to the Stanley Cup Finals has followed a similar path of the Los Angeles Kings. Each round had needed a new superman to step up at crucial points of a series and like the Kings, New York had also made a little bit of history on their way to the Finals. In the first round, the Rangers played their long-time division rivals in the Philadelphia Flyers. This was quite the back-and-forth series and if it was not for Steve Mason being injured to start the series, the Blueshirts may have gone home early in the playoffs. Luckily for New York, Ray Emery got to start in three of the games and posted a 3.49 GAA and a .889 save percentage. Although Steve Mason had a terrific 1.97 GAA and a .939 save percentage, it was still ‘King Hank’ that outlasted Mason and the Flyers in an epic bounce-back performance in game seven.
Moving on to open a second-round series in Pittsburgh, New York started strong against the Penguins, getting a game one win in overtime by the score of 3-2. However, the Rangers would drop their next three in a row all while being outscored 9-2. After losing game four to the Pens, looking tired and feeling embarrassed in losing three straight, all while attempting to become only the 25th team in the NHL playoffs since 1987 to comeback from a 3-1 series hole… a tragedy occurred. Yet, it was at this moment, in this Pittsburgh series, that a true leader stepped up and sparked his team to the start of a huge comeback series victory: Marty St. Louis.
Before game five, St. Louis mother had unexpectedly passed away from a heart attack at the age of 63. The next day, the forward was dressed and ready to play, inspiring the Blueshirts to a 5-1 victory on the road. After winning game six at home, a game that saw St. Louis notch the opening goal, New York had to travel to Pittsburgh for another game seven. On the power play, it was St. Louis again who initiated the victory. With roughly 12 minutes to play in the game, St. Louis was able to center a nifty little back-handed pass through traffic to a crashing Brad Richards, who buried it top shelf for what ended up being the game-and series-winner. Next up for the Rangers, Marty would have to play in front of his home-crowd in Montreal, Quebec, versus the Canadiens.
The series with Montreal could not have gotten off to a more shocking start. In game one, arguably the best player and goalie for the Canadiens, Carey Price, got hurt after a collision with the Rangers’ Chris Kreider. After that, it was all about the ‘King’ versus the youngster in net for the Canadiens, Dustin Tokarski. Albeit, Tokarski stood strong in net for Montreal, but in game seven, the ‘King’ did what he does best: win. Like in game six against the Philadelphia Flyers, Lundqvist was shelled in game five against the Canadiens. However, also like in the Flyers series, he had an incredible bounce-back performance and shutout the Habs, a shutout that included a breathtaking blocker save on Thomas Vanek during the second period.
As good as Henrik Lundqvist was in this series, one player in particular made history for New York. Defenseman Ryan McDonagh got off to an incredible start against the Habs, racking up one goal and three assists in game one. In the series as a whole, McDonagh set a Rangers record with eight assists and was second in the history of New York defensemen to get 10 points in a single series (one point behind Brian Leetch’s 11 points in the 1994 Finals).
How They Will Win the Stanley Cup: Just as anyone would expect from a team with nobody wearing the letter “C” on their jerseys, the New York Rangers have made it this far on the backs of every single Blueshirt on the team. Although the Rangers have relied heavily on the ‘King’ in net to play as solid as he has and to make incredible game-changing saves, the Stanley Cup Finals cannot be won by himself, but rather via coach Alain Vigneault’s ability to receive scoring from every one of his lines.
In the opening round with the Flyers, eight different players scored two goals for New York and all four of their game winners were scored by different Rangers. In their series with the Penguins, 10 different players pitched in for their 15 total goals- again, none of which were from their regular-season leading goal scorer, Rick Nash. The Rangers play an up-tempo game that relies heavily on all four lines and all six defensemen being able to contribute and in this postseason alone, eight different players for New York have ten points or more. If the Rangers have any chance at winning the Stanley Cup, it will have to be through the continuing successes of their timely team scoring in front of their great goaltending.
Commentary by Ryne Vyles
Part One @ GuardianLV