NY Rangers: 3 Reasons They're the Team to Beat in the Eastern Conference
The New York Rangers finished the regular season two points shy of winning the coveted President's Trophy, which would have ensured them home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs.
While their 4-1 loss to the Washington Capitals on Saturday April 7th, 2012 squashed those dreams, the Rangers had already clinched first in the Eastern Conference the week prior, giving them home-ice advantage throughout all Eastern Conference matchups.
Not to mention that although they didn't win first overall, they still finished with the same number of wins as the Vancouver Canucks (51), who secured the President's Trophy with their 3-0 shutout win Saturday night against the Edmonton Oilers.
The Rangers organization no doubt has shown what they are made of this season and there are so many contributing factors to their success.
For the purposes of this article, let's focus on the top three reasons why this success will carry with them through the postseason, making them the team to beat in the Eastern Conference.
Head Coach John Tortorella
The New York Rangers head coach John Tortorella is no doubt known for his fiery and passionate ways, but I think that is one of the many factors to why he is so great for the organization.
He is by no means a hothead (the likes of Bruce Boudreau), but rather stands up for his team and isn't afraid to speak out for what he believes in.
This kind of leadership effect trickles down to every person on the roster, because the Rangers team knows that Tortorella most definitely has their backs and in turn they all protect one another.
My point can be clearly proven by his post-game reaction to Derek Stepan's knee-on-knee hit from April 5th matchup against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Tortorella clearly doesn't agree with the mixed-message politics that exist for some teams and not for others.
And, while he couldn't have been more correct in commenting this type of unsportsmanlike hit would not have been tolerated if it had been against the Pittsburgh Penguins organization, he was fined $20,000 for speaking the truth and his mind.
This isn't the first time that Tortorella has been fined for making such bold statements, but I think it is actually quite admirable, because it only proves his strong investment in his team.
Tortorella doesn't care what he is fined or how many times, he will continue sticking up for his players to the end, and they respect and appreciate that.
How many other coaches would go out on a limb like that for their players?
Knowing how strongly their coach and leader has their back gives the Rangers team so much to fight for, which is a powerful tool to their being the team to contend with in the east.
The Rangers want to win not only for themselves, but more importantly for their fearless leader Tortorella and that kind of dedication and drive makes them arguably unstoppable as opponents.
Captain Ryan Callahan
The Blueshirts organization couldn't have picked a better representative of what it means to be a leader than the 26th captain in the history of the New York Rangers, Ryan Callahan.
Callahan embodies what it means to be captain, which is no doubt the reason that he has won the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award three times since his tenure with the Rangers.
The award honors a player "who performs above and beyond the call of duty" as quoted from the New York Rangers official website on March 30th, 2012.
This kind of "extra effort" is displayed by Callahan in every single game.
One particular instance was during the end of the 2010-2011 season, when he blocked a shot by Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara causing him to suffer a fracture in his right leg.
The Rangers were desperate to make the playoffs and Callahan proved that he would stop at nothing to help his team attain their goals of getting there.
Putting yourself in the line of fire is one thing, but to do so against the strongest slap shot in the league is bravery at its finest.
According to the New York Rangers official website, his stats this season are as follows:
He "ranks third among NHL forwards in blocked shots (88), ranks sixth overall in hits (269) and is tied for fifth in power play goals (13)". He also "is tied with the franchise record and fourth in the league in game-winning goals (nine)."
Callahan is simply an all-around amazing player and his teammates respect him immensely.
According to the SNY Rangers Blog from February 18th, Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist admirably referred to Callahan's role as captain by stating,
“To me, his leadership comes from the way he plays. The way he sacrifices, it makes it easy for guys to step up for him. If there’s a style, that’s what it is.”
Additionally Rangers defenseman Marc Staal said, “Cally is a watch-what-I-do leader more than a listen-to-what-I-say guy."
I don't believe there is a more admired and revered captain in the league. Callahan is also arguably one of the most clutch players in the league and if leadership like that doesn't make the Rangers a frightening opponent, I'm not really sure what does.
There is no denying the positive effect that Henrik Lundqvist's goaltending mastery has had for the 2011-2012 New York Rangers.
His teammates love him and believe in him, referring to him on many occasions as the "backbone" of their team.
One of the key components to any teams success is great goaltending and the Rangers definitely have that in Hank.
Lundqvist has the third most wins in the NHL with 39 this season (also a career-high for him), as well as a myriad of other accomplishments, such as a .930 save percentage and a career-best 1.97 GAA.
His stats speak for themselves, but it is also his grit, determination and heart that makes him so great.
Lundqvist is having the best season of his career and it is no wonder why he is referred to as "King Henrik".
He is not only up a contender for the 2011-2012 Vezina Trophy (which is awarded to the NHL goaltender who is the best at his position), but also the Hart Memorial Trophy (which is awarded to the player deemed to be the most valuable to his team).
This is no other team in the league that has that killer of a combination in a goaltender and overall player as the Rangers have in Lundqvist.
His teammates have reportedly stated that they want to win for him. That kind of camaraderie and loyalty to one's goaltender is truly special.
With Lundqvist on point in net, there is no stopping him and he is ready, willing and able to continue his excellence straight into and through the postseason.
From an April 9th posting on Blueshirts United coach Tortorella praised Lundqvist, stating:
"I have watched him improve this year, and really since the last quarter of last year, and the way he's built, he wants to improve. He likes the spotlight, and in all playoff series the goalies are in the spotlight. I think he's going to thrive in it."
There are many other contributing factors as to why the Rangers are the team to beat in the Eastern Conference, but I believe it is these three major components that are at the core to their success.