Not many people probably figured on the the New York Rangers reaching the Stanley Cup Final (well, outside of the citizens of New York, that is). But the Rangers survived their postseason gauntlet and are now four wins away from hoisting the Cup.
But which players will be most important in their quest for that legendary piece of silverware? Which Rangers must step up if the team is to be crowned hockey champion?
Let's find out.
When it counted against the Montreal Canadiens, Henrik Lundqvist came up big. He was brilliant in Game 6, stopping all 18 shots sent his way and making a few brilliant saves along the way. That was a total team effort, of course, but Lundqvist wasn't going to be beaten on that night.
Believe it or not, that was Lundqvist's first shutout of these playoffs. Yes, he's faced really good offenses in the Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins and Montreal Canadiens. Yes, he's held opponents to one goal or less eight times in this postseason, and the Rangers are 8-0 in those games.
Keep in mind that in five of those games, he faced 32 or more shots. He's had his ups and downs this postseason, but in general, he's been quite good.
And if New York is to win the Stanley Cup this year, Lundqvist is going to have to steal a game or two. When the Rangers erased a 3-1 series deficit against the Penguins, it was in part fueled by the fact that Lundqvist only allowed three goals in those final three games. No player is more important to this team.
Martin St. Louis
Thus far in the postseason, the acquisition of Martin St. Louis has proven to be the missing piece for this Rangers team. He leads them in both goals (six) and points scored (13, tied with Derek Stepan and Ryan McDonagh). On a team that is predicated on balance and discipline, St. Louis has brought even more savvy and a little bit of sizzle, too.
He's also brought leadership and experience, as he's won a Stanley Cup before. The Rangers are a complete team, but if they are going to hoist the Stanley Cup, it will be in large part because of St. Louis continuing to produce for them at a high rate.
And, in the process, make the trade for him look like a stroke of genius.
If you were to point to one player who perhaps was most vital in the Eastern Conference Final, you need look no further than McDonagh. That's who Stephen Lorenzo and Justin Tasch of the New York Daily News chose to focus on, and for good reason:
Ryan McDonagh was a massive part of the Rangers' swarming defensive efforts during their 1-0 Eastern Conference finals-clinching victory Thursday night, but he continues to show off his ability offensively. He earned an assist on the game's lone goal, sending a pass around the boards to Brian Boyle, who fed Dominic Moore.
After entering the series with a disappointing three points in the postseason, McDonagh netted 10 points against the Habs, while leading all skaters in assists in the Eastern Conference finals. He is the first Rangers defenseman to notch eight assists in a playoff series, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, and is only the second Blueshirts defenseman to record 10 points in a playoff series — Brian Leetch had 11 against the Canucks in the '94 Finals.
McDonagh, who recorded a team-high 25:27 of ice time, has tallied an assist in his last three games (four during that stretch.) This all comes after he was held point-less during the opening round against Philadelphia.
McDonagh has been excellent all season long, of course. He scored 43 points, was a solid plus-11 and averaged 24:49 of ice time—most on the team—in the regular season. But against the Canadiens, he took his game to another level.
If he can maintain that level, this Rangers team is going to be incredibly difficult to beat. His defensive contributions will obviously be key, but getting that level of offensive production from the blue line is a luxury most teams simply don't have.
And a luxury the Rangers will need to hoist Lord Stanley's Cup.