It is indeed that time of year again. The flowers are blossoming, the temperatures are rising, and the ice is heating up. It is time for some playoff hockey and most of the match ups are set. This evening the playoff schedules will be unveiled and the true fun will begin.
March has its own form off madness with the NCAA college basketball tournament. April is full of its own form of madness, excitement, and intensity. No matter when, where, or how you got in to the playoffs, you always have a chance to run the gauntlet for a chance to hoist up Lord Stanley’s hardware. This was illustrated by the Philadelphia Flyers last year as they made it in on the last day of the season via a shootout win and made it all the way to the Stanley Cup finals.
The New York Rangers in a similar fashion have made it in on the last day of the season with some help from the Tampa Bay Lighting and some of John Tortorella’s former players. The common notion among the mainstream media simply was that the Tampa Bay Lighting, already locked into the 5th seed, would have no motivation to play and that they simply would opt to rest their players.
Superstar dynamo Steven Stamkos shot that down that notion during the intermission of the Lighting Hurricanes matchup. During the interview Stamkos stated,” We have the chance to eliminate these guys & we're going to try and do that." That is exactly what the Lighting did as they eliminated the Canes.
Just like that they Canes are out and enter New York Rangers. This team has shown heart, grit, determination, and the ability to persevere and transcend through adversary all season. Through the course of the season the Rangers lost Marian Gaborik, Chris Drury, Brandon Dubinsky, and Ryan Callahan, twice, to injury. Despite these short comings the Rangers have made it to the post season thanks to some gifted rookies like Derek Stepan, Ryan McDonagh, Mats Zuccarello, Michael Sauer, and their talented all star goalie Henrik Lundqvist.
While the Rangers may be squaring off with the high and mighty and Washington Capitals, but this wouldn’t be the first time they have faced each other in the post season. Most fans remember the last time the Rangers and Caps faced off in the postseason because of the infamous Tortorella vs the drunken fan incident. It was a series in which the Rangers had a 3 games to 1 lead and it seemingly just slipped between their finger tips. A lot of variables have changed since than so there is hope for the Rangers to learn from their past sins to avoid repeating the past.
For starters, the stanchion behind the visitors’ bench has been updated to prevent fans from interacting from on ice personnel. Secondly the Rangers are a different team. They may have some rookies but also have playoff veterans like Ruslan Fedotenko and Vinny Prospal with them. This may not seem like much but take a look at Fedotenko’s career playoff numbers. In the 03-04 Lighting Stanley Cup season Fedotenko netted 12 goals over 22 playoff games. He also had 7 goals and 7 assists for 14 points during the Pittsburgh Penguins Stanley Cup winning season. For whatever reason Fedotenko steps up his game come playoff time. Vinny Prospal is a crafty veteran who brings experience to this young club. The youngsters can take solace in knowing they have some one to go to when the pressure of the playoffs may creep up on them.
Youngsters like Derek Stepan though should shine under pressure. He did captain the US World Juniors Team to a medal over the tournament favorite Team Canada. He was an explosive player in that tournament and has lived up to the hype. While glancing through the 2009-10 Hockey News yearbook, under the future watch section for the New York Rangers, it was predicted that Stepan would make his NHL debut in the 2013-14 season.
Thirdly, Alex Ovechkin is not as dominant as he once was. Ovechkin reached career lows this season in goals (32) and points (85). Previous lows were 50 goals and 92 points. The difference now is that Ovechkin is no longer a secret. Defenses now know his "juke in and deke out" moves that have accompanied countless reels of highlight film. Ovechkin is still dangerous but not as dangerous. Nicklas Backstrom is also having a down year. With only 18 goals tallied this year he does’t quite light the lamp as often as he would like to.
Fourth and most importantly the Rangers have the clear edge in the goaltending department. Henrik Lundqvist alone clearly trumps the tandem of Michal Neuvirth and Seymon Varlamov. King Henrik is true royalty in Gotham and he just is looking for the jewels to solidify his regality. He is considered to be a true Vezina Trophy candidate this season and could easily had been considered for the Hart had his fellow Swede Daniel Sedin not had such a dominating season. Regardless, Henrik has the talent, experience, and drive to propel the Rangers into the later rounds of the post season.
No matter how you slice it, the Stanley Cup playoffs are no walk in the park for any team let alone the New York Rangers. In a seven game series any team can take the opportunity and run with it to the Stanley Cup finals. In the Rangers case, if they want to make a serious run they will need to ride the King to capture the crown.
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