Monday, April 11, 2011

Can The Rangers Be The Flyers of This Postseason?

The New York Rangers are in the playoffs and maybe all you need to do to have a shot to win it is get in the dance and go from there.  The runs of both the Montreal Canadiens and especially Philadelphia Flyers in last year’s NHL playoffs gives every team and their fans hope that is the case.  The question becomes about whether the Rangers are capable of making the run or if thinking that way is just irrational hope by the fans about the chances of the team they love.  Can the Rangers be this year’s Flyers?
The Rangers have a lot of the ingredients that lead you to believe a deep run in the postseason, even if from the eighth seed.  Before we even get to the players that can make the difference the first thing you have to talk about with this Rangers club is their identity.  Playing a team game based on hard work, sacrificing the body, hitting, and a physical style is the kind of system that can succeed in the playoffs.  Combine those things with the fact the team has a resiliency both within games and from game to game is critical in a playoff series. 
To speak to their resiliency within games the Rangers were tied for second in the lead in wins when trailing after two periods with eight.  New York was also the only team to not lose a game in which they lead after two periods posting an astonishing 29-0-0 record in those situations.  When you are a team that has come back to win games and also knows when you have a lead you can keep it, then you add confidence to your club.  That is especially important given the Rangers youth overall and playoff inexperience in certain important roles this season.
Beyond those almost intangible qualities the Rangers possess a balanced offense, strong defense core and have arguably the best goalie in the world with Henrik Lundqvist.  One the keys to a long playoff run is going to be a goaltender getting hot at the right time and Lundqvist is certainly more than capable of that as he shown over the years and even the past two months.  Lundqvist played the final 26 games of the regular season for the Rangers going 15-10-1 with a 2.14 goals against average, .923 save percentage and four shutouts.
In front of Lundqvist the Rangers have a very good young defense core that is led by Marc Staal and Dan Girardi.  The pair is one of the top shutdown units in the league against the opposition’s top offensive line and is more than used to playing the huge minutes that will be required in the playoffs.  One difference for the Rangers this year as opposed to two years ago when they made the playoffs is that the emergence of Michael Sauer and Ryan McDonagh as a pair gives the Rangers a second defensive group to have faith in during the big moments.  Reacting to the new environment of the playoffs is an unknown, but with the way each has adjusted this season there is hope they will make the same transition there.
The thing that could hold the Rangers back from being the Flyers of this postseason is the inconsistency of their offensive attack.  The team put up 5+ goals on 16 different occasions this season, but they also going into scoring droughts that saw them score two or less 42 (not counting shootout goals) times this season.
There is no more better example of the offensive consistency issues the Rangers suffered from this season than their offensive headliner Marian Gaborik.  He has only 22 goals on the season, 10 of which came in three games.  If the team is going to make a run he is going to have to be a consistent producer in the extra season because behind him there is enough secondary scoring depth to make for a dangerous offensive unit.
If Gaborik gets hot to go with the Rangers style of play, their emerging young defense core and all world goaltending there is no reason they cannot make a run deep into June.