Why the New York Rangers are the NHL’s dark horse to win the Stanley Cup
When the NHL’s Return to Play Committee finalized and voted on the 24 Team Tournament, it was met with some criticism but also a overwhelming seal of approval. The plan was approved by the NHLPA by a vote of 29-2 with the two dissenting teams being the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Carolina Hurricanes. Essentially, the top four teams in each conference receive a bye and will play each other in a three game round-robin for seeding. The bottom eight teams will face off in a best of five play-in round to qualify for the traditional 16 team Stanley Cup playoffs.
Now that you understand the format, let’s dive into why the New York Rangers are the best positioned team to win the Stanley Cup coming out of the play-in round.
New York Rangers: NHL Dark Horse
The New York Rangers are coming in as the 11th seed in the East. They were also one of the hottest teams down the stretch and were within a point of the Wild Card at the Pause. Head coach David Quinn got his young team to turn the corner on January 31st and they went 14-7-1 when play was suspended.
This team has all the makings of being a dark horse with Artemi Panarin leading them in scoring with 95 points. His play has put him in the MVP discussion with the previously mentioned Leon Draisaitl. NY also had the hottest goalie going down the stretch in phenom, Igor Shesterkin. The 24 year-old “Czar of NY” had a record of 10-2 in 12 games with a 2.52 GAA and a whopping .932 SV%. He did so in impressive fashion earning a 7 game winning streak that included a 5-2 win against Carolina. He also faced over 40 shots in 5 of his 12 starts, winning every single contest.
Let’s talk about the Carolina Hurricanes, the team that voted no and even had their head coach Rod Brind’Amour crying about fairness. They are an extremely talented team led by Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov thar play a very disciplined game focused on puck possession. That’s important because they don’t have good goaltending. Now why did they vote no? Was it really about fairness? Or could it be that they lost all 4 games to the Rangers this year and have gone 2-10 against the Blueshirts in the last three seasons.
Qualify and Fly
This is a series that could go the full five, but it is more likely to be a sweep for the Rangers if the Canes goaltending issues continue. If the Rangers do get by the Hurricanes as I expect they stand a great chance of going all the way. Aside from Panarin and Shesterkin, the Rangers are actually very talented on defense with Tony DeAngelo finishing as the NHL’s fourth leading scorer among blue-liners. But the big name to watch for the Rangers is center Mika Zibanejad who scored a remarkable 41 goals in just 57 games including 14 in the team’s last 10 games.
The Rangers are young but have a nice blend of talented vets as well. Chris Kreider, Marc Staal, and Henrik Lundqvist are the three most senior veterans and have all lived through deep playoff runs in 2012, 2014, and 2015. Their locker-room presence will be key in guiding players like rookies Adam Fox and Kaapo Kakko as they navigate what could be an epic 19 win trail to the Cup.