Friday, March 25, 2011

Rangers A Darkhorse Candidate To Make A Run in Playoffs

Leaving last night’s performance aside the New York Rangers are one of the hottest teams in the league right now and they have all the ingredients to give any team a series in these playoffs next month.  The saying that defense wins championships is a classic one and if the NHL playoffs become about defense then the Rangers are in as good a position as anyone with two top level defensive pairs, a perennial Vezina nominee in Henrik Lundqvist and a defense first mentality with solid two-way forwards that keeps goals off the board.

The obvious problem for the Rangers is their inconsistency to score goals, but they have been better during this hot streak at getting some consistent scoring throughout their top offensive players.  If they can add a consistent level of offense even at 3 goals a night they can beat any team in the league and they have displayed that this year.  The key guy to that for many is Marian Gaborik because when he is a threat the team is much better than without, but the line that makes this team run is that of Dubinsky, Anisimov and Callahan.  When they add their offense to their two-way play this team rises to another level.  Gaborik’s goals are very important for a deep run, but he is never really going to be a dominant superstar that can take over a playoff game.  The combination of Dubinsky, Anisimov and Callahan has more potential to collectively impact a series on both sides of the ice.

Another key for the Rangers is the health of Marc Staal.  Over the past few weeks Staal has missed five games with a knee and an undisclosed injury and while the team was successful there is no disputing how much better the defensive core is when they get their all-star and leader back in the mix.  With Staal, Girardi, McDonagh and Sauer this team has as good a top four, in terms of shutting down opposing offenses, as any team that will be in the playoffs.  They will not bring the offense other units do, but if you keep the puck out of your own net you don’t always need to score from the back line.  Obviously there are teams they have had more success against than others like Washington, but if they can keep Henrik Lundqvist as hot as he has been lately you can ride a hot goalie for a long time just like Montreal did last season with Jaroslav Halak from a lower seed.  

Who knows if the Rangers continue this hot streak the conversation may change from in the playoffs/7th or 8th seed to getting as high as 5 and then they might not be such a darkhorse to make a run.