New York Rangers' Blueprint to a Deep Run in 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs
The New York Rangers are about to embark on the quest for the Cup in the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs.
And given their talent and makeup, it is very possible that they can make a deep run.
What do they have to do to ensure that they can play deep into May and June? What's the blueprint for a successful run in the playoffs?
We break it down for you. Read on to find out.
It was a tale of two seasons for Henrik Lundqvist.
In the first three months of the season, Lundqvist went 12-16-2 with a poor .906 save percentage.
In the final four months of the season, Lundqvist went 21-9-3 with a terrific .933 save percentage.
So what happened?
“Early in the season there were a couple of distractions. I’m not going to lie — the contract played a part,” Lundqvist told Larry Brooks of the New York Post. “When you add everything together, it was not perfect. It was the most challenging part of my entire career.”
Lundqvist eventually signed that contract, a seven-year, $59.5 million deal, in early December. Once that was behind him, it was no surprise to see Lundqvist play his best hockey.
Great goaltending wins in the playoffs. Lundqvist can easily steal a series or three. With a stingy defense in front of him, Lundqvist just has to play as he normally does for the Rangers to go far.
Ryan McDonagh is the best player on the Rangers.
And he will be a marked man.
Even though he claims that his shoulder is healthy, you can bet that the Philadelphia Flyers—and any other teams the Rangers might face—will look to finish their checks hard on McDonagh.
If he goes down with another injury, the Rangers will be finished. It is impossible to truly measure McDonagh's impact. He plays nearly 25 minutes a game, finished fifth on the team in points and established himself as a legitimate Norris Trophy candidate.
“He’s been a force out there,” Alain Vigneault told Katie Strang of ESPN.com about McDonagh. “He’s got to be getting some consideration for the Norris.”
“He’s been lights-out all year,” Marc Staal added, per Strang. “It seems like everything he touches turns to gold right now.”
If you look at the last four winners of the Stanley Cup, every winner had a shutdown defender. Whether it was Zdeno Chara in Boston, Drew Doughty in Los Angeles or Duncan Keith in Chicago, a minutes-munching, lockdown defender is absolutely crucial to win.
That's what McDonagh has turned into this season. If he's not fully healthy, the Rangers will exit the postseason pretty quickly. If he remains healthy and plays as he has all year, then the Rangers will be a legitimate threat to win a championship.
Had the Rangers' power play performed better in last year's playoffs, it's possible that the team could've knocked off the Boston Bruins.
After all, the Rangers scored just four power-play goals in 12 games. And it's not like they were just unlucky. They couldn't even set up in the zone, let alone get any shots off. It was painful to watch.
This season, things are better. They're scoring at an 18.1 percent rate. While that's a vast improvement over last year, it must be mentioned that, since the Olympics, the Rangers have scored just nine times in 70 chances.
The Rangers need to be consistent with their zone entry and with their movement. With Brad Richards at the point, Marty St. Louis by the circles and Rick Nash in front of the net, the Rangers need to be sure to move the puck around. They need to take as many shots as possible, not searching in vain for the perfect shot. St. Louis, in particular, needs to use his hard wrister more often, especially using Nash as a screen.
Power plays are incredibly important in the postseason, because they can dictate momentum. Momentum is crucial in the playoffs: A good power play can gain momentum; a bad power play could halt it.
Alain Vigneault should find a balance between putting Nash's unit out there and the Benoit Pouliot-Derick Brassard-Mats Zuccarello unit. The latter unit has been much more consistent, but the former has the potential to be much more explosive.
If the Rangers can consistently generate chances and convert on the man advantage, then they will be tough to beat.