Last year’s trip to Cup Final was no fluke for surging Rangers

Popular opinion would’ve told you that the New York Rangers overachieved a year ago in making their first appearance in the Stanley Cup Final in 20 years.

And after losing the series in five games to the Los Angeles Kings, combined with a few big name losses in the offseason and a very underwhelming start to the 2014-2015 regular season, many were immediately writing off the defending Eastern Conference Champions.

Fast forward to late February. The once struggling Rangers had 78 points and sat in second place in the Metropolitan division, just two points behind the arch-rival New York Islanders, with three games in hand.

The most impressive part of that surge is that goalie Henrik Lundqvist hasn’t been a factor in the last 11 games after suffering a vascular injury Jan. 31.

 

With backup goalie Cam Talbot shouldering almost all of the entire workload since the injury to Lundqvist, the Rangers offense has really stepped up and developed into one of the highest scoring groups in the NHL.

The Broadway Blueshirts boast a +40 goal differential, tied for the top mark in the league, and have scored a remarkable 32 goals in their last seven games.

Much of the offensive dominance can be attributed to the resurgence of forward Rick Nash. Nash, who has struggled since his trade from Columbus to New York in the summer of 2012, is currently third in the NHL in goals with 42, breaking his single-season goals mark of 41.

But ultimately, it is the system that head coach Alain Vigneault has brought over to New York from Vancouver, where he had lots of success in his seven seasons as head coach of the Canucks.

Vigneault is a great offensive hockey mind, whose style of play calls for speed, consistency, and smooth transition from the defensive zone to the offensive zone.

In each of the last two seasons, it took the Rangers some time to fully adjust and buy in to Vigneault’s system, which seems to be almost the polar opposite of former Rangers head coach John Tortorella, who demanded a much more defensive style of play.

Finally, it appears that the Rangers and their second-year coach are on the same page offensively. The evidence is clear. Since Lundqvist’s injury, backup Cam Talbot didn’t play poorly, but it was the offense that won the Rangers many of its games.

For the first time in years, the Rangers haven’t had to rely on lights-out goaltending to win.

 

That is what is so exciting about this year’s team. The Rangers didn’t get goalie Henrik Lundqvist back until late March and they were still winning with consistency.

I can’t even imagine how good this team will be throughout the playoffs with a healthy Lundqvist back in net.

If a team wants to have postseason success in this league, it is going to need its offense, defense, goaltending and special teams to click all at the same time. It happened for the Rangers last year, but did anybody really believe that it would?

Maybe they did overachieve last year, and that’s what made their playoff run so special. During the Eastern Conference Finals, Montreal Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien said that the Rangers were the best team they’d played the entire postseason.

But will this year’s team be even better?

If the offense continues to be this good, and Lundqvist plays as well as we know he is capable of, I would not want to face this Rangers team right now.

by Doug Reilly

 

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