If there’s anything the Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks, two (until this season in LA’s case of course) perennial Stanley Cup contenders have proven in recent years, its that its really, really difficult to win back-to-back titles. That hasn’t happened since the Steve Yzerman-led Detroit Red Wings accomplished the feat back in 1997 and 1998.
But one accomplishment that often gets overlooked—and one the Rangers have a legitimate shot at achieving this year—is that of making it back to the Stanley Cup Finals two years in a row. This season, the Rangers look poised to make it back to the dance, and they should be the favorites to win it all for several reasons.
The first of those reasons is the team’s best skater and 40-goal scorer Rick Nash.
Nash tickled the twine a career high 42 times this season and finished with 69 points. It was a banner year for him an all accounts, and one he surely needed after Nash’s leadership and ability to perform when it matters most were questioned during the team’s postseason run last year. It was fair criticism since he only scored three times the entire playoffs and that all three of those goals came against the Montreal Canadiens in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Though Nash’s performance or lack thereof played a key role in the Rangers being manhandled by the Kings, perhaps it’s something the team and more specifically Nash needed to experience in order to get over the hump. It’s been clear from day one this season that the power forward has played with a chip on his shoulder.
The fact he’s done it all year long and seems to be determined to continue his scoring ways offers reason to believe New York won’t falter.
Another reason the blueshirts seemed destined to go deep into the playoffs is that the club has a golden opportunity to get off to a flying start in the first round, which can often times provide all the momentum a team needs to make it right to the final round. While the they will face Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins to open the playoffs, both he and the team as a whole aren’t as threatening as they used to be.
Salary cap issues forced the team to play shorthanded down the stretch, defenseman Kris Letang is out for the season, and Crosby himself has had somewhat of a down year, at least by his own standards. All of those factors won’t matter if the Penguins and not the Rangers build momentum quickly in the opening round, but then again, the Rangers’ star goaltender might have something to say about that.
While Henrik Lundqvist only started 46 games for the team this season due to injury, he still managed to string together his second straight 30-win season. That’s pretty good considering he needed 62 starts to win 33 times last season. 82-game schedules aside, Lundqvist makes his hay where most other premier goaltenders make it.
In the playoffs.
He made big saves at the right times with many of the team’s top scorers struggling to find the net for much of the spring, namely the aforementioned Nash. That’s just what top-notch goalies do. And while Lundqvist isn’t getting any younger, there’s no reason not to expect the same old hat now that hockey’s second season is upon us.
While neither Lundqvist’s likely rock solid play, the team’s Presidents’ Trophy and somewhat favorable first round matchup and a renewed sense of determination from its top scorer certainly doesn’t guarantee a championship in the Big Apple come June, it does go a long way in making the Rangers the best odds of doing so.