New York Rangers have already proven something in these playoffs
At the beginning of the season, no one expected the New York Rangers to make it to the Conference Finals. As the year went on and the team improved, it became more probable but was still more of a fantasy.
Yet here they are preparing to take on the Tampa Bay Lightning on home ice on Wednesday. This was not likely to become a reality, and it has been an interesting postseason so far. These pleasantly surprising Rangers have already proven something to the hockey world by making it this far.
‘No Quit in New York’ is truer now than ever
Throughout the regular season, the Rangers demonstrated resiliency and the ‘no quit’ attitude that has become a large and meaningful part of their identity. However, in the playoffs, they have taken this to a new level. Coming back from being down three games to one against the Pittsburgh Penguins to win the series and then coming back again against the Carolina Hurricanes proved that this team should not be counted out.
“There certainly has been no quit in this group,” President and GM Chris Drury said Tuesday. “In both series to comeback and win– a resilient bunch. And the second thing is how close they are. It started before training camp– it’s a close-knit group.”
The Rangers are playing for each other and playing with urgency and spirit, and they have been since going down three games to one against the Penguins. Initially, their play against the Penguins didn’t look any different from their play during the regular season. While that was not all bad, it could never set them up for success in the playoffs. But in game five, they finally started to play real playoff hockey. Their game now has an extra layer of intensity and grit that takes it to the next level.
This progression is clear evidence of this young and inexperienced team’s playoff learning curve. What they’re doing now is exciting, and what they could do going forward is magical either in these playoffs or next season.
Carolina had not lost a game this postseason prior to game seven on Monday night. The Rangers truly made a statement by defeating the Hurricanes on the road in order to advance to the conference finals.
Undoubtedly the underdog in the series, it was difficult to imagine the Rangers getting this far at various points in the season and playoffs. But their ability to not only force game seven but win it on the road further proves that they are hard to predict and should be taken seriously.
Rangers adding intensity to their identity
Part of the Rangers’ list of goals for this season was to add some grit. They brought in some players with the hopes of accomplishing this, and there has been a clear difference especially in the playoffs. Ryan Reaves is a physical presence that has the added effect of changing the feeling of a game. Reaves gets the team fired up and ready to play with intensity and grit even from the locker room with his nightly call of “Shesty, release us!”
Aside from Reaves, Jacob Trouba stepped up significantly during the regular season recording a career high of 207 hits. This has carried into the playoffs as well as he has 54 hits through the first two rounds. Alexis Lafrenière has also embraced this role and has recorded 37 hits so far.
But intensity has more elements than just physicality in this sense. It also includes pace and doing whatever it takes to win. They got off to a slower start against the Penguins but have since increase their pace to that of a convincing playoff team. Additionally, players like Ryan Lindgren have been getting the gritty job done in the defensive zone. Lindgren has left and returned to multiple games as he has continued to sacrifice his body to block shots and play diligent defense.
The Rangers also got a big boost when Barclay Goodrow returned from a believed ankle fracture in Game 1 of the opening round. His return in Game 6 coincided with two big wins to advance them to the ECF.
“All our homework about him on and off the ice,” Drury said of the Goodrow signing. “What a character player he was and the things he could do not only in the playoffs but in the regular season to create and build a winning culture.”
This element of intensity is paramount to having playoff success, and the Rangers are consistently bringing it every game now. Making this a part of their identity is a big step in their progression.
Contributions from the entire lineup
The Kid Line has had success when they’ve been together this postseason which is surprising and inspiring. It is encouraging that they have been able to find a comfort level so quickly, particularly for Lafrenière and Filip Chytil. There was question as to where the top six were for longer than anyone is comfortable with. However, the first line has gotten back to producing since Mika Zibanejad has come out of his slump. One player in particular in the top six that needs to step up a little bit more is Artemi Panarin. While he has made a difference in critical situations, such as scoring in overtime in game seven against the Penguins, the Rangers need him to produce consistently.
Other than offensive production, the intangibles become even more important in the playoffs. Tyler Motte and Barclay Goodrow are two players that make a difference in this area. They have the playoff experience to be extremely valuable to this young team trying to find their way. The additions of Motte and Goodrow back into the lineup has had a visible impact on the spirit of the game, and thy have contributed to the intensity element that is so crucial.
The Rangers are still a young team with plenty of potential, and now they’re beginning to believe and make it fun for the fans. What this team has done so far has been surprising and what they could do going forward is magical whether it be this year or in coming seasons. It is an exciting time to be a New York Rangers fan.
Note: All stats come from hockeyreference.com
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