You’d think a Rangers related blog would champion the last line of defense more than most. However the last line of defense – the goaltender – isn’t everything. Despite being a Hart and Vezina finalist, despite being the best goaltender on the planet this season, Henrik Lundqvist still needs a quality blueline in front of him to succeed, as does any successful goalie for that matter. It is this consideration however, why the Rangers should feel confident they can handle the surprisingly strong Devils in the conference finals.
Why you ask? Look at the Capitals. They had a former Norris candidate, blueline scoring machine in Mike Green start to rediscover his form in the Rangers series. They had two future studs in Karl Alzner and John Carlson and a quality top four defenseman in Dennis Wideman. They had a deep defense, one of the few that on paper can match the Rangers unit. Then, behind that defense they had a solid netminder. While the Rangers never tested Braden Holtby enough, part of the reason they got so little rubber on net was what was because of what was in front of him.
Of course Braden Holtby is not Marty Brodeur. The Devil is a legend at his position who is enjoying an Indian summer. That said Marek Zidlicky, Andy Greene, Peter Harrold, Bryce Salvador and Mark Fayne hardly comprise an intimidating defense. Would Holtby have had the same level of success without the quality that was in front of him? With all due respect, probably not.
Brodeur remains a quality netminder but, discounting Lundqvist’s incredible personal record against the old Devil (23-7-5), if you get more disc on net, if you are able to manufacture consistently better opportunity to beat the goaltender the likelihood is, you will. There’s only so much even an in-form veteran like Brodeur can stop with the defense he has at his disposal.
The Devils have overachieved this post season on the back of some serious top end skill, they may continue to do so. They perhaps boast more top end, pure skill than the Rangers and their forecheck (so fierce against the Flyers) is going to have a huge impact on the series. However this series may, perhaps even should be decided by the defense that copes best and only then the goaltender behind them.
If you offered me a veteran Brodeur and the aforementioned patchwork of blueliners (let’s not forget Zidlicky couldn’t even get into the Wild line up this year) against the current best goaltender in the world and arguably the deepest blueline in the league built around Girardi, Staal and McDonagh there is only one unit I’d choose – bias aside.
Hopefully Lundqvist doesn’t need to be as brilliant as he usually is. Hopefully the defense and depth up front can lead the Rangers back to a Cup final. Maybe even the powerplay might consider turning up. While it has been everything for the Rangers so far, the last line of defense, the King, isn’t everything. The Rangers should enjoy a serious skill and depth advantage on defense in the series and that could be the determining factor.