New York Rangers Players Who've Proven Themselves in the 2014 NHL Playoffs
In surprising fashion, the New York Rangers battled back to defeat the top-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins in seven games to set up an exciting Eastern Conference Final matchup with the Montreal Canadiens.
The Blueshirts appeared finished when they fell behind 3-1 in the series. Three consecutive uninspiring performances in Games 2, 3 and 4 had nobody believing in a comeback of the variety that was unprecedented in the franchise’s history.
Nobody believed in the Rangers but themselves.
They proved a lot of people wrong—including myself—but it was amazing to witness.
Not only have the perceptions of the Rangers as a whole changed with the victory, but numerous players have proven their worth big time.
Today we’ll highlight the three who’ve done their best to seize the moment and proven they are not who some thought they were.
After a pleasantly surprising playoff campaign last season—and a strong showing throughout the 2013-14 regular season, which saw him establish the second-highest point total (45) of his career—Derick Brassard seemed to fade away in Round 1 against the Philadelphia Flyers.
His 12 points in 12 games (across the playoffs as a whole) helped sink the Washington Capitals in Round 1 in 2012-13, but they weren’t enough to catapult his side to victory against the Boston Bruins in Round 2. Despite the loss, he was still the team’s leading scorer in the postseason.
But against Philly this year, Brassard scored zero goals and only tallied two assists in seven games, failing to contribute on a nightly basis.
The Rangers would go on to win the series in seven games despite Brassard’s lack of production, but it would take a greater effort out of the center, who pivots New York’s most consistent line, in Round 2 against the high-octane Pittsburgh Penguins.
Fortunately for the Rangers, Brassard answered the call—and early.
The Hull, Quebec, native won Game 1 in overtime. New York would go on to lose the next three games, twice in shutout fashion, with Brassard (and most of his teammates) nowhere to be found.
After an emotional regrouping by the Rangers prior to Game 5, Brassard would lead the charge with his linemates Benoit Pouliot and Mats Zuccarello and help the Rangers steal an elimination game by the score of 5-1.
Brassard would register two goals—the first of which was the game-winner—and one assist en route to the Rangers’ second win of the series.
Two nights later in Game 6 and with the Rangers’ backs against the ropes, Brassard scored a huge goal to put his team up 3-1 in the second period. New York would ride its opponent out again and claim victory, forcing a Game 7 that seemed impossibly out of reach a few days earlier.
Despite not scoring in Game 7, Brassard and his mates generated several chances. The Rangers would go on to win the game and the series, but if it wasn’t for Brassard and his clutch performances in three of the victories, the Rangers would have been eliminated.
After years of battling injury, the Rangers welcomed back Marc Staal prior to the 2013-14 season in hopes that they could finally boast the high-powered defense corps they had worked so hard to put together.
It wasn’t too long ago that Staal was the darling prospect of the Rangers organization, nearly making the team as a teenager prior to the 2006-07 season. He proved to be worth the wait, though, as he burst on to the scene a year later and made a habit out of improving with every year that passed.
He and Dan Girardi formed one of the league’s best young defensive pairs, and they began to aggravate the league’s most potent offensive weapons on a nightly basis. Staal even cultivated an offensive side to his game, one which curiously came under the guidance of John Tortorella, who is, of course, notorious for sucking the creativity and fun out of the Rangers’ game.
But all changed after Staal was concussed by his brother Eric in February of 2011. Staal would go on to play the rest of the season, but it was revealed at its conclusion that he was battling post-concussion syndrome and that he would be out of commission for the foreseeable future.
Staal wouldn’t return to action until January 2, 2012, and he was a shell of his former self upon his return.
The following season in 2012-13, Staal took a puck to the eye and nearly lost sight in it. He would battle back to play a single playoff game before being forced to shut it down.
That brings us back to 2013-14. Staal struggled out of the gate but saw patches of positive play. He would eventually experience rough patches yet again, his career moving like a carousel.
That was until the playoffs began.
Staal has elevated his game yet again, and it’s one of the reason the Rangers were able to limit the scoring opportunities of both Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
Girardi and Ryan McDonagh may have been handed the tough tasks of shutting down the likes of Claude Giroux and Sidney Crosby—their opponents’ best players—but good hockey teams feature a balanced attack. Staal has done well to shut down the opposition’s depth, the likes of Wayne Simmonds, James Neal and even Evgeni Malkin, who would be a regular first-liner on every other team in the league.
Staal has been an integral part of the Rangers’ penalty-killing unit, blocking a total of 29 shots in the playoffs, including five in Game 6 of Round 2. He’s only registered three points, but his plus-six rating in the postseason tells us that he’s doing a great job of not only shutting down the opposition but contributing to the team’s overall push up the ice.
It’s great to see Staal back on top of his game after a tough few years, and if New York is to advance any further, he’s going to have to keep playing at a high level.
Henrik Lundqvist is good. Like, really good. But not everyone is on board.
After a tough start to 2013-14, which included long-term contract negotiations, an overstated goaltender controversy and a defensive transition period, Lundqvist got it together for a stretch run and helped carry the Rangers to their eighth playoff appearance in the last nine years.
He finished the year with 33 wins, a 2.36 goals-against average (GAA) and a .920 save percentage. These numbers are far from his best but solid nonetheless.
Furthermore, there’s a stigma about him, one that says that he’s no good in the playoffs and is the main reason the Rangers didn’t win the Stanley Cup back in 2011-12.
I think it’s safe to say, though, that Lundqvist has proven nearly all of his doubters wrong in these playoffs.
The Rangers have played in four elimination games ahead of their Eastern Conference Final matchup with the Montreal Canadiens, and in those games, Lundqvist has a 1.00 GAA and a .969 save percentage.
Lundqvist is now 10-2 in 12 career elimination games with a 1.32 GAA and a .957 save percentage.
Two of those four eliminations games in these playoffs were Game 7s. With the wins, Lundqvist is now 5-1 in six career Game 7s, sporting a cool 1.00 GAA and a .965 save percentage. He’s won the last five and posted an unfathomable GAA of 0.80.
How can a player that puts up numbers like these when the game is on the line—in addition to garnishing a Vezina Trophy as league’s top goaltender in 2012 as well as gold and silver medals in Olympic competition—be blamed for an organization’s shortcomings in the playoffs?
At this point, he has to be considered one of the greatest performers in Game 7s in the history of the league. His fifth Game 7 victory places him just one behind Martin Brodeur and Patrick Roy in all-time Game 7 victories for a goaltender.
Truth: Lundqvist will never be satisfied until he wins the Cup, and the chances are he’ll still take criticism until then, but Lundqvist is not the problem.
He never was.
So even though Rangers fans already knew that, these playoffs hopefully have proven to the rest of the hockey world that Lundqvist is the best there is when the game is on the line. There’s no two ways about it.
The King is truly The King, like it or not.