3 major reasons why Rangers are legitimate Stanley Cup favorites

NHL: New York Rangers at Pittsburgh Penguins
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

There are many reasons why the New York Rangers have been near the top of the NHL standings all season and are among the favorites to win the Stanley Cup this spring.

They have a Cup-winning coach in Peter Laviolette. Goalie Igor Shesterkin is once again playing at an elite level. Their special teams are each within the top-six in the League. And they’ve shown the ability to overcome adversity this season, posting a 10-game winning streak after stumbling through the month of January.

The Rangers are in the mix to finish first overall in the League with seven other teams. That’s even with Laviolette downplaying the importance of winning the Presidents’ Trophy.

But in a wide-open postseason, it wouldn’t be shocking to see the Rangers raise the Stanley Cup for the first time in 30 years.

It doesn’t mean they will because things like luck and injuries factor into the equation for any champion. But they are clearly in the mix of serious contenders.

And here are a few reasons why the Rangers stand out among the best of the best in the NHL.

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3 reasons why Rangers are legitimate Stanley Cup favorites

NHL: Dallas Stars at New York Rangers
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3. Artemi Panarin, Adam Fox playing at elite levels

With Artemi Panarin and Adam Fox playing at the levels they are, the Rangers can go into any playoff series believing they have the best forward and best defenseman in the matchup.

Yes, the Boston Bruins have David Pastrnak and Charlie McAvoy. The Colorado Avalanche have Nathan MacKinnon and Cale Makar.

Great teams all have great players.

But the Rangers have to like their shot with these two. Panarin is a legit Hart Trophy candidate, who’s already established NHL career highs with 41 goals and 97 points. He takes over games more regularly now and his shoot-first mindset this season is a game-changer. The Breadman has developed great chemistry with linemates Vincent Trocheck and Alexis Lafreniere to form, easily, New York’s most consistent unit.

Fox is having an underrated great season. He missed 10 games early on with a lower-body injury but has been a force in each facet of the game all season, especially of late. Fox is riding a six-game point streak, has already established a career high with 13 goals and is averaging a point per game (59 points in 60 games). And he’s a major asset in his own end with how quickly he gets the puck out of the defensive zone, either with sharp passes or by using his elite skating ability.

2. Rangers proving they have quality depth on roster

For the first time in several seasons, the Rangers have been hit hard by injuries in 2023-24. Fox and Shesterkin missed games early, Kaapo Kakko missed 21 games, Blake Wheeler is out for the season and Filip Chytil played only 10 games before being shut down.

And all that was before Jacob Trouba and Ryan Lindgren each sustained a lower-body injury recently. 

But the Rangers keep rolling along, first-place in the Metropolitan Division every day since late October and now 6-2-0 without Trouba.

They have filled in admirably for each injury this season, with defensemen Zac Jones and Chad Ruhwedel just the latest examples. The trade-deadline acquisitions of Alex Wennberg and Jack Roslovic filled holes and deepened the roster even more. And don’t discount how important a role Jonathan Quick has played for the Blueshirts as Shesterkin’s goalie partner.

There’s no panic, in part because the Rangers have maintained their winning ways no matter who’s in or out of the lineup. Laviolette deserves credit too for his calm demeanor and even-keeled approach that’s set the tone for success.

That depth and approach will each be key if New York is going to make a long run in the two-month grind that is the Stanley Cup Playoffs. 

1. Rangers excelling against best teams in the NHL

The Rangers dispatched the Boston Bruins 5-2 in impressive fashion – on the road, it should be noted – Thursday to complete a sweep of the three-game season series. That’s 3-0-0 against the team that sits first overall in the NHL standings, with the Blueshirts now just one point in arrears.

Last week, the Rangers traveled to Raleigh and shut out the Carolina Hurricanes 1-0 in a game with a distinct playoff feel. The Blueshirts were 2-1-0 against the Hurricanes this season.

Yes, they are 0-2-0 against the Panthers, whom they host Saturday, and did just lost to the Winnipeg Jets 4-2 on Tuesday. But the point is the Rangers can more than hold their own against the best teams in the League.

Those were statement wins against the Bruins and Hurricanes. And Laviolette’s take that playing the best teams right before the playoffs being a good thing sets the right tone.

It just feels like the Rangers are locked in. They’re not perfect, some nights certainly not as pretty as others. But you sense that the Rangers are going to be ready once the postseason begins in April. 

Jim Cerny is Executive Editor at Forever Blueshirts and Managing Editor at Sportsnaut, with more than 30 years of... More about Jim Cerny

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