Is Henrik Lundqvist Hot Enough to Lead New York Rangers on Deep Postseason Run?

Jeremy Fuchs@@jaf78Correspondent IIIMay 2, 2013

Is Henrik Lundqvist Hot Enough to Lead New York Rangers on Deep Postseason Run?

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    If the New York Rangers are going to make a deep postseason run in the 2013 NHL playoffs, then Henrik Lundqvist needs to be at his best.

    That begs the question—is the goalie hot enough to do this?

    We all know that Lundqvist is one of the best goaltenders in hockey. He is the reigning Vezina Trophy winner and has been consistently good for some time.

    But is this the year that Lundqvist takes his team all the way? Or are the inconsistent Rangers due for an inconsistent performance in net?

    Read on to find out if Lundqvist is hot enough to lead the Rangers on a deep postseason run.

The Case for Yes

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    The Rangers may have been inconsistent this year, but Lundqvist was a rock.

    He posted a 24-16-3 record, with a 2.05 goals-against average and a .926 save percentage.

    For comparison's sake, when he won the Vezina trophy last season, he had a 1.97 goals-against average and a .930 save percentage.

    Indeed, this season, statistically speaking, was the second best of his career. 

    And Lundqvist is certainly peaking at the right time. In the month of April, when the Rangers have essentially been playing playoff hockey, he's been at his best. He has a .934 save percentage, including two shutouts. That has helped the Rangers win five of their last six heading into the playoffs.

    While a hot goalie is essential to making a deep run, a team still needs to put the puck in the net. After struggling all season, the Rangers offense has started to come together.

    They averaged a pretty remarkable 3.7 goals per game in April. On the season, they averaged just 2.6. The acquisitions of Derick Brassard, Ryane Clowe and John Moore, in addition to the signing of Mats Zuccarello, has paid dividends.

    The Rangers defense is stingy, giving up only 2.3 goals per game, which was fourth best in the league. The special teams are average, but the penalty kill gave up only six power-play goals in April, in 37 chances. That's killing off 84 percent of penalties, better than their season average of 81 percent.

    So the Rangers are peaking when it matters most.

    They are getting more scoring, playing tight defense and improving on special teams. On paper, they have one the most talented rosters in hockey. They have a hot goalie and a hot team, which means anything is possible—even a Stanley Cup run. 

The Case for No

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    So yes, Lundqvist is hot.

    That does nothing when the team in front of him is inconsistent.

    After all, this is a team that lost to the lowly Florida Panthers when a win would've clinched a playoff spot. In fact, the Rangers lost to the Panthers twice. This is a team that lost to the Flyers in the middle of April during a playoff push and gave up four goals to the Buffalo Sabres, a team that averaged just 2.5 goals per game, which was ranked 22nd in the league.

    This is a team with a three-game losing streak and a four-game losing streak this season. And let's be honest—this team was supposed to compete for the Presidents' Trophy, not the sixth seed in the mediocre Eastern Conference.

    Indeed, two of the four writers making predictions for Sports Illustrated picked the Rangers to at least make the Stanley Cup, while six ESPN writers picked the Blueshirts to win it all. 

    It hasn't been that simple. The Rangers needed a major deadline trade to kick things into gear, and without both the Flyers and Devils being besieged by injuries, the Rangers might not even be in the second season. 

    And even though the Rangers have been playing really well in April, one month does not a season make.

    The Rangers simply have not been consistent enough to warrant any belief that they will make a deep playoff run. For all we know, the month of April has been a mirage, and they will be bounced in four games by the Washington Capitals.

    It's great that Lundqvist is hot. But a hot goalie cannot do it all. The rest of the Rangers have just been simply inconsistent for even the most incredible Lundqvist heroics to make a difference. 

The Verdict

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    So, is Lundqvist hot enough to lead the Rangers on a long postseason run?

    Or are the Rangers simply too inconsistent and won't be able to advance far, no matter how good Lundqvist is?

    The answer, it seems, is the former.

    Yes, the Rangers have had their struggles, but they are a talented team that is playing well. Lundqvist is playing some of the best hockey of his career, and they have the parts to go far.

    The Rangers have a talented offense with a diverse set of scorers. They have a stingy, physical defense. They have gritty players who are willing to do what it takes. They have an improving power play. All the ingredients are there. 

    When you put that kind of team in front of Lundqvist, something special can happen. The Rangers need to play like they have been this month in the playoffs for that to be possible.

    But the Marian Gaborik trade was the kick in the pants they needed. They are 9-3-1 since the trade and have shown all the signs of the dominance that was expected from them. The Rangers are peaking. They are not a mirage.

    With Lundqvist as one of the goalies best equipped to take a team far, then it looks like the Rangers, despite their early season struggles, are set up nicely. They have what it takes.

    And with Lundqvist playing the way he is, then there is really nothing holding them back from a deep run.