The New York Rangers got off to a typically fast start this season, and that had us thinking about the road to the Stanley Cup Final. While they have cooled down some, we are not ready to give up on the idea. There will be plenty of obstacles along the way, however.
The New York Rangers have the Stanley Cup on their minds. While this year’s team is not a popular pick to win it all, anything is possible. New York may be gifted an easier road to the Stanley Cup than ever before thanks to the faulty playoff system. A trip through the Atlantic Division bracket is not impossible by any means for this Rangers team.
However there will be plenty of obstacles along the way if the Rangers wish to win the Stanley Cup. Among those will be Eastern Conference contenders, and arguments can be made that each contender is the scariest. In the latest Blue Line Station round-table, let’s see who we believe are the biggest threats.
The New York Rangers themselves are the biggest threat to stopping New York from making it all the way. While the rest of the league provides plenty of challenges, New York cannot avoid stepping on their own toes.
The forward group this season is outstanding. There is not a concern in my mind about their ability to compete with the best of the best in the NHL.
Henrik Lundqvist is a terrific goaltender, and while he has struggled this season, he reaches a higher level in the post-season. Last year was concerning, but the history points to his being part of the solution, not the problem.
Then there is the defense. General Manager Jeff Gorton has shown zero ability to fix the defense, and zero urgency to do so either. New York’s greatest obstacle in advancing in the playoffs will be their own roster, as the defense simply is not good enough to compete at that level.
Perhaps the Rangers can sneak their way into the Conference Finals in a weak Atlantic Division bracket, but Dan Girardi on the top pairing will eventually end their run. It’s just not good enough.
The biggest threat to the New York Rangers will be the Montreal Canadiens.
The Rangers have played the Canadiens once this season in Montreal. They played well offensively, putting four goals past Carey Price. However, they were dominated in their own end, losing 5-4.
As the standings look right now, the Rangers would be playing the first round of the playoffs in Montreal. It might be considered an ideal situation, considering the Rangers would avoid the Blue Jackets, Penguins, and Capitals until the Eastern Conference Finals.
The bad news is that won’t mean in anything if they cant beat Montreal. The Canadiens have one of the best goalies in the world, Carey Price, and a very deep group of skaters.
Montreal is solid, and they will be the biggest road block for the Rangers this spring if they look to hoist Lord Stanley for the first time in 23 years.
The Washington Capitals serve as the biggest threats to the Rangers. Washington currently sits in first place in the Metropolitan Division.
Early in the month of January, the Caps boasted an eight-game win streak (ended by their single overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Jan. 16).
Their high-level play comes as no surprise. Washington has one of the best active forwards in the league in Alex Ovechkin, and other star offensemen (like Nicklas Backstrom, Justin Williams and T.J. Oshie) who historically are consistent and have made the biggest impact in their recent postseason runs.
However, throughout the first half of 2016-17 they have seen members of the roster outside of these big name players step up. All four lines have generated offense, and points have come from centers, wingers and defensemen alike. Many players on the roster have surpassed or are close to recording career-high numbers.
Put a goaltender like Braden Holtby on top of all of this, and you have a team that could potentially be unstoppable.
The Capitals have three matchups against the Rangers throughout the rest of the season. These will be a good test to see how they stack up against the Caps who have been so hot.
If the Capitals continue playing with this kind of offensive depth, they will be one of the biggest threats to the Rangers come April
The Rangers’ biggest threat going forward is still the Columbus Blue Jackets. Following their 16 game win streak, the Jackets have cooled off considerably. However, they still have the same tools that strung together one of the longest streaks in NHL history.
The Jackets are well-coached and they follow a blueprint similar to the one that was successful last season for the Stanley Cup winning Pittsburgh Penguins.
Columbus touts scoring and speed throughout the lineup, a very quick defensive unit, and, this is where they have a leg up on the Pens, a Vezina winner in goal.
The Blue Jackets have also already shown that they can get it done against the Rangers, winning two of the three matchups this season. The last one being the shellacking following the All-Star Break.
The season series returns to Columbus tonight, and this game will prove very important to the season as a whole.
Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
The biggest threat to the Rangers’ Stanley Cup hopes, externally at least, are the Pittsburgh Penguins. After beating them by a score of 5-2 in mid-November, the Rangers have been outscored 13-3 in their last two meetings against Sidney Crosby and friends.
In those two losses (6-1 and 7-2 respectively), the Rangers have looked a whole lot like they did in the first round butt-whopping the Penguins gave them last season. The defense has looked horrible, the offense has been non-existent and Matt Murray is cementing himself as a Ranger killer.
Seriously though, look at Murray’s numbers against New York. He holds a 5-0 record in as many meetings and has only given up 7 goals on 134 shots (playoffs and regular season combined).
The good thing about the Rangers potentially slotting into the playoffs as the top wild card would be so they don’t have to face the Penguins initially. If things go right in that scenario, maybe the Pens would get eliminated and the Rangers could just skip playing them in the postseason alltogether.