The New York Rangers have survived two seven-game series, and now they are battling the New Jersey Devils for the right to play for the Stanley Cup. And though the series is currently tied, the Rangers are more than capable of knocking off the Devils and advancing.
The Rangers squad has put in more than a full effort this season as a result of their demanding coach, John Tortorella. While some have pointed fingers at their exhaustion, there are still reasons to believe they will reach the Finals.
The Blueshirts have shown the league why they are capable of winning the Cup time and time again.
You will not read an article about the Rangers without seeing Henrik Lundqvist's name. More than 2,000 times this season he has stopped whatever has been thrown at him. He's a human highlight reel and will continue to be throughout his career.
With this year being the closest he has ever been to the Stanley Cup, look for Lundqvist to continue his dominance between the pipes. While he has said throughout the season he has a tendency to lose his focus, we haven't seen that yet this postseason.
He is the MVP of the Rangers and has been the catalyst that has allowed them to reach this point. I hope he has a big enough closet for all the hardware he will win at the end of the season.
The Rangers have lacked the captain they've needed since Mark Messier dripped tears in his final game. Ryan Callahan embodies everything Chris Drury stood for but has the energy and the youth to utilize it.
Callahan is relatively small for an NHL'er but he doesn't take any crap. He will out-hit any player on the ice each game, and doesn't shy away from an encounter. Having a leader willing to do everything it takes to win lifts a team, and it has lifted the Rangers.
He is an expert at shot-blocking, a skill New York has relied on heavily this season. He can score 20 goals, deflect shots and kill penalties.
He is everything his team needs. He is everything his team deserves.
Is there a better clutch player than Brad Richards in the NHL? Granted there are more talented players in the league, but there hasn't been a better guy when it's mattered for his team.
Richards is no stranger to succeeding in moments others would shy away from. He has 34 game-winning goals in his career. This year he had the most in a single season in his career with nine—his highest total since the 2003-04 season (seven) when he won the Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Whether he scores, assists or gains the zone to establish a play, Richards has answered the call when the Rangers needed a spark. Look for him to continue to perform all the way to the ticker tape parade.
Coach Tortorella is much better behind the bench than he is behind the microphones. Love him or hate him, and it is pretty easy to pick a side, Tortorella is the right coach to take the Rangers to the top.
When Mike Keenan coached the Rangers, he wasn't a subtle leader nor a pat-you-on-the-back coach. He was fiery, demanding and involved in every aspect of his team including where his players sat in the locker room. Tortorella is not as intense, but he knows which buttons to push to ignite his team's momentum.
It is his demanding style and unattainable approval that has pushed the Rangers to exceed expectations. Like Keenan, this style will take the Rangers to the top.
It was only fitting that Mike Rupp be the image for the Rangers' physical play. I'm going to say it first: I have no problem with Rupp knocking down four Devils in one play. The line he shouldn't have crossed was pushing Martin Brodeur. But maybe he thought it was Brendan Shanahan. Or as Tortorella put it, it wouldn't have happened if a penalty wasn't called.
The Rangers haven't backed down from contact in a single game this season. There are no players on the roster who won't donate a bruise or two to an opposing player (besides Marian Gaborik because he doesn't hit hard enough). With the Kings as the likely opponent for the Stanley Cup, physical play will be needed.
The Kings and Rangers are the two most physical teams remaining in the playoffs. In order to prevail in such a series, a team needs to be willing to take and give out hits. The Rangers will do both—a lot.
Teams that get pushed to the brink in more than one series during the playoffs do not win the Cup—or at least this is what statistics tell us. Historical statistics only matter in writing contracts and updating record books, not when determining outcomes of games. If they did, Rocky would've never won against Ivan Drago.
The Rangers have already overcome two seven-game series to reach the Conference Finals. The average media member would view this as a sure sign of an exhausted team. The average athlete at any age knows that the adrenaline the body composes for big games ignores all injury and exhaustion.
This post-season run is drawing an odd similarity to 1994. Don't be surprised if the Rangers take down the Devils in seven games and do the same against the Kings. This team has been here before and has prevailed.
Recognize the two players on the left in the picture above? Richards and Ruslan Fedotenko have been to the big dance before. Tortorella, Richards and Fedotenko brought home the Cup together and look forward to doing it again.
Fedotenko has two Stanley Cups—in 2004 with the Lightning and in 2009 with the Penguins. With the Lightning, Fedotenko notched the game-winning-goal in Game Seven, and scored seven goals and seven assists for the Penguins' run.
Rupp is no stranger to the Stanley Cup either. Rupp scored the game winner in Game Seven in 2003 with the New Jersey Devils.
With the experience the Rangers have, the veterans will be able to compose their team come Finals time.
Chris Kreider and Carl Hagelin are fast. Their speed has made them both very noticeable in the series with the Devils. Kreider has scored and made numerous plays on the ice with his speed. Hagelin hit the post in Game Four, and was checking bodies all over the ice.
With the quickness of their two youngsters, the Rangers will be able to create mismatches and put some pressure on the Kings. Watching the Coyotes and Kings' series has displayed the trend of a slower game than the East. While LA does have speed in Kopitar and Brown, they rely primarily on agility and skill.
The Rangers should be able to create chances by getting in behind the Kings' defense, and this should make for a slight advantage.
I never thought I would say this, but Marc Staal missing time may have been the best thing to happen to the Rangers this year. Without half of their top pairing, the Rangers turned to Ryan McDonagh to step up in his place—and it worked.
Dan Girardi, an occasional scapegoat for the Garden crowd was put into a position to become the main leader of the blue line. Girardi has matured into the toughest and most consistent defenseman for New York. Combined with McDonagh, their line has been as good as any other pair in the NHL this season. As evidenced in Game Four, Girardi can be relied on to make plays on a two-on-one as well.
Despite a sub-par performance in Game Four, Michael Del Zotto has taken his game to another level this season both defensively and offensively. Anton Stralman has been a pleasant surprise with his speed and grit. Staal has returned to form at the perfect time, eating up minutes while being strong on the puck.
Defense in front of King Henrik has made the Rangers as formidable an opponent as any team could play, and will prove crucial in an attempt for June glory.
The New York Rangers have not hoisted a cup since the 1993-94 season. Legends such as Mike Richter, Mark Messier, Brian Leetch and Adam Graves roamed the ice in Manhattan then. Now those gentleman hang in the form of white banners above the likes of Henrik Lundqvist, Ryan Callahan, Dan Girardi and Brad Richards.
The names have changed, but history is ready to be rewritten.
Zamboni the ice, produce one more "Because It's The Cup" commercial and pop the champagne.
"The waiting is over, the New York Rangers are the Stanley Cup champions!"