We’re just two weeks away from 16 teams playing through blood, sweat and tears to compete for arguably the best trophy in sports…the Stanley Cup.
It’s been wildly agreed that in recent past, that the West have had the upper hand over the East. And it’s easy to see why, as the L.A. Kings and the Chicago Blackhawks have 5 Stanley Cups between them…FIVE!
Flash-forward to now, and the East have been slowly taking the momentum out of the West. The examples of this reasoning is evident for everyone to see, as Sidney Crosby’s Pittsburgh Penguins hoisted the Stanley Cup last June. To add on, the youth culture of the Toronto Maple Leafs have its present and future fan base beaming with anticipation and delight. The 2016-2017 season have belonged to the Columbus Blue Jackets, after coming out of the basement and finally ascending to the top of the East’s elite.
The New York Rangers are an interesting team though, sprinkled with young players and seasoned with a few veterans. They’re in the playoffs as of 1am today with an overtime loss to the San Jose Sharks in Northern California, but you’d have to wonder how far can their defense and goaltending situation will take them into the playoffs. Henrik Lundqvist has been far from his 2012 Vezina-season form and it forced Rangers’ head coach Alain Vigneault to start backup net-minder Antti Raanta more games than he’s supposed to. You could argue that AV was protecting Lundqvist for the upcoming Cup run, but I doubt it. Unfortunately, it has to be said that Father Time has reached Lundqvist sooner rather later. On the bright side, the emergence of defenseman Brady Skjei (Shay) has shown us Rangers fans that our defensive hopes may be on the rise, with high-touted defensive prospect Ryan Graves waiting in the wings. I have been publicly rallying for Skjei to be paired with Ryan McDonagh for the first blue-line defensive pairing. To me it makes sense. Brady Skjei is a born left handed defenseman, who has all-star written all over him, and McDonagh is an established elite right handed, shut-down defenseman. Personally, this pairing makes a ton of logic. The rest of the defensive core is suspect at best…which leaves me to believe that the Rangers defense is mainly the x-factor of whether the team makes a deep or short run in the playoffs.
Fortunately, there’s so much youth on this Rangers team that their Stanley Cup window isn’t even remotely closed. More than half of the Rangers forwards’ age are less than 30…with the exception of 32-year old veteran winger Rick Nash. Over this past season, New York’s young forwards such as J.T. Miller, Mats Zuccarello, Chris Kreider, Derek Stepan, Kevin Hayes, and Jimmy Vesey were all integral pieces that got the Rangers into the playoffs. They have turned around the seemingly extinct power play, into a deadly scoring weapon that has come alive during the latter part of the season. Better late than never, I always say.
If Henrik Lundqvist stays the course and doesn’t go into a rather pre-mature slump during the playoffs, and if the entire defense (other than McDonagh and Skjei) doesn’t stand around during precarious situations, and actually disrupt offensive shots and passes…then the Rangers have a decent chance to get into the East Finals.
I need this to happen before I die.
Barring any drastic chances to the playoff picture, it looks like Boys of Gotham will have a first-round series date with the Montreal Canadiens. Best of six games wins…4 games to 2, Rangers. Take it or leave it!
Let’s Go Rangers