New York City is gearing up for playoff hockey and so are the New York Rangers. A rematch of a matchup from last year’s postseason has all the makings of a great series between two great hockey teams. Each team has key players that are essential to their success and count on them to get the job done. Here are the New York Rangers key players to watch for this series which begins Thursday, April 16 at 7 p.m. at Madison Square Garden:
1. Henrik Lundqvist
As expected, the “King” ranks number one on the Rangers’ key players. He is the backbone of the entire team. He finished the season 30-13-3 despite missing several weeks with a vascular injury. He tallied five shutouts and a goals against average of 2.25. He is the last line of defense in the backend and is always counted upon to stand on his head every night to ensure a victory. Lundqvist loves the playoffs and always comes up big in clutch situations. He is an early favorite for the Conn-Smythe Trophy for Playoff MVP.
2. Rick Nash
Rick Nash is looking to redeem himself after a disappointing postseason last year (three goals and seven assists in twenty five games). He came out determined this season and proved that he is worth the $7.8 million per year. He led the team in goals and points (42 goals and 69 points) and was hot all season long. However, he did start to slow down towards the end of the season with only seven points in his final fifteen games. As long as Nash can be a threat every game, the Rangers will have a better chance of defeating the Penguins early.
3. Dan Girardi-Ryan McDonagh
The top defensive pairing for the Rangers has been under criticism all year long. They are relied upon to effectively shutdown the opposition’s top players every night. They have been called out by their Head Coach Alain Vigneault for their need to be better, and they have responded. McDonagh seemed to let the heavy weight of the “C” on his sweater get to him, but ever since the All-Star break, he has been outstanding. He set the bar high with his spectacular play last season and had high expectations coming in. On the other hand, Dan Girardi is the Rangers’ iron man. He has played in every single game this season, despite taking multiple beatings every game. He leads New York in hits (224) and blocked shots (184). Combined, the pairing is a +35 and see the most ice time. They will be heavily depended upon to stop Crosby and Malkin. Both players have blossomed in the playoffs with a balance of Girardi’s defensive capabilities and McDonagh’s offensive touch.
4. Kevin Hayes
The rookie sensation Kevin Hayes has quickly made a name for himself in his first year in the NHL. In his first year, Hayes has tallied seventeen goals and twenty-eight assists for a total of forty five points. He was originally drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks back in 2010 and played hockey at Boston College all four years he was in school. As the third line center on a line with Carl Hagelin and Martin St. Louis, this could be one of the most important lines for New York this post season. Hayes has impressed the organization with his poise with the puck, being responsible in his own defensive zone, and his size. He can easily knock a defender off of his to make a play in the corner. Can Hayes be a key to the Rangers success in the playoffs? Time will tell.
5. Dominic Moore
Centering the fourth line, Dominic Moore is the unsung hero of the Blueshirts. He leads the team in face-off percentage (54.5 %). He finished the year with ten goals and twenty seven points, however, offense is not what he is best known for. He is arguable one of the best defensive players on the Rangers. Despite only being a +5, Moore is called upon by the coaching staff to go against the opposing team’s top players, not only to shut them down offensively, but to frustrate and throw them off their game as well. He is their best penalty killing forward and has proven himself as a respectable two way center. He brings veteran grit and goes into the dirty areas to make plays in both ends of the ice. He steps up in the lineup when needed. Lets not forget, he scored the game winning goal in Game 6 against Montreal to send the Rangers into the Stanley Cup finals last season. He is their go to guy on the penalty kill, defensive zone face-offs, and can even score. When he plays his game, the team overall is very successful.