The current presidents trophy winners The New York Rangers strap in and gear up for yet another playoff appearance. For the ninth time in ten years, the Rangers prepare for the grind for Lord Stanley’s Cup. This season the Rangers find themselves playing the favorite going into round one of the playoffs against the Pittsburg Penguins.
This season the New York Rangers have remained hard work personified setting franchise records for wins, and points (52W, 113 points) that were previously established by the 1993-94 Stanley cup winning team lead by Mark Messier, and Brian Leetch. The Rangers go into the playoffs with an air of confidence, and determination not seen in years to accomplish the goal set by this franchise since falling to the Los Angeles Kings in the finals last year.
Now in the sport of hockey there are those who are extremely superstitious of what is said, or done in relation to predictions, as well as the handling of awards. It is known in many circles that saying, or doing certain things with finality in respect to the outcome of a game, or series, or the touching of trophy like items is sacrilege. To some it is at the very least dangerous. With this in mind we analyze Rangers Captain Ryan McDonagh’s handling of the Presidents trophy when presented to the team.
First off it was the right thing to do. This is an opinion coming from an individual who won’t say a word about a game win, or lose come playoff time. It was a confident move, it was a move that said “nothing so trivial will stand in our way this year,” and when he did it I breathed a sigh of relief. Last year was a different story, as any Ranger fan will remember.
When alternate captain Brad Richards (now with the Chicago Blackhawks) skated to the table that held the Eastern Conference Championship trophy (chosen by the players to do the honors as former Captain Ryan Callahan had been traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning for Martin St. Louis on the deadline) there was hesitation, possibly an air of doubt as the trophy was ignored, and I remember trying to push down thoughts at that time of, “they don’t think we can do it, they have doubts, they’re scared.”
Now of course hindsight is 20/20, and realistically none of that applies to what happens during the game, but the move speaks volumes about where this teams mindset is. With a simple gesture he projected team mentality: “We are the favorite, we have the big stick, you’re going to have to fight tooth, and nail to stop us.”
In the end the game is not about statistics, the champion is not based on points, in the end the team that lifts the Stanley Cup demonstrates character, hard work, determination, and a bit of luck. The Rangers have proven this year that they have all the ingredients necessary to make millions of New Yorkers dreams come true. Despite 21 years of falling short, the die hard fans are more confident than ever heading into the upcoming series with the Pittsburgh Penguins, and for the first time in some time the confidence is not misplaced.
Yet there is still work to be done, and the key factors that will contribute to success seem pretty evident. Firstly, and this should be no surprise, is Rick Nash. Rick Nash, Rick Nash, Rick Nash. Forgive the redundancy, but there will be well-deserved pressure on the highly paid goal scorer to produce this post season, as he has notoriously disappeared come April/May. However this year Nash seems to be more comfortable than ever, developing solid chemistry with the rest of the team top to bottom.
The Hart Trophy candidate, Nash has produced the best performance of his career not only coming up big in desperate moments, but also providing the little things that chip away at opponents, and open up opportunities for the team. Nash will be a huge factor in the Rangers success going forward.
Another key factor will be the performance of the special teams, specifically goal scoring on the power play. The Rangers will look to improve their overall power play performance that finished the season ranked 25th in the league. It will be important for the Rangers to make teams pay for their mistakes. The Rangers seemed to turn a corner during the home stretch of the regular season scoring twice in their last three games.
The Rangers consistency from top to bottom will be another key factor going forward. What can be said about this team that already hasn’t been said, Henrik Lundqvist is one of the greatest goaltenders in the league, The Rangers defense is collectively one of the grittiest, and stingiest in the NHL with an ability to fly down the ice pushing opposing defenses back. Their young talent with the likes of, Kevin Hayes, and J.T. Miller are confident, strong, fast, and dangerous.
Their veterans, and day-to-day contributors such as, Derek Stepan, Derick Brassard, Mats Zuccarello, Carl Hagelin, Martin St. Louis, etc. must all contribute and play at their very best as displayed in the regular season. All facets of this team contribute, and thankfully they are driven to succeed. The Rangers are no joke, and for the first time in a long time, analysts are saying, “you don’t want to face the Rangers.”
The keys to winning the Stanley Cup are not in statistics, and they are not in what looks good on paper (and this team looks amazing on paper). It’s about performance, consistency, determination, hard work, teamwork, and believing in one another. The New York Rangers are focused, and ready for what lies ahead. Bring on the Penguins.