The Rangers have been the equal of the Kings in all three contests so far, and yet the Rangers are facing a 3-0 series deficit and probable defeat in the Stanley Cup Final. On the heels of a promising yet inconsistent first regular season under Alain Vigneault, the Rangers have shown a huge amount of promise in the playoffs to get to their first Cup Final since the magical ride of 1994.
There has been a ton of positives that should provide plenty of hope for the future. Smiling in the face of defeat, let’s look at a few things that should excite Rangers fans moving forward.
Norway has a hockey force
It seems a long, long time ago since the whole ‘Is Mats Zuccarello NHL calibre’ debate. Zuccarello has grown throughout this season (and the Final) and after discussing whether Zuccarello could do more after Game One of the Cup Final, boy has he.
Zuccarello has been everywhere; he’s taken the body, he’s parked himself in front of the net at every opportunity, he’s generated offense and he’s been a leader for the Rangers. If Zuccarello can continue this level of growth he’s going to be the reincarnation of Marty St Louis; that’s how much skill he has.
Center of Attention
If the Rangers can fix the center position this offseason I see no reason why the Rangers can’t contend regularly. The Rangers are relatively young and deep on the wing, led by the young brigade of Zuccarello, Chris Kreider, Carl Hagelin and even Rick Nash (who at 29 is not old in anyone’s estimation). With an elite goalie and strong nucleus on the blueline, Glen Sather has a fine core to build around. Derek Stepan and Derick Brassard need to be complimentary pieces to the center position but they are hugely talented young players.
What we have seen in the Stanley Cup Final so far, is the difference quality depth at center provides. Jeff Carter and Anze Kopitar – without either being dominant – have either produced offense or controlled the puck and when they’re not on the ice, Mike Richards and Jarret Stoll have provided face-off expertise and even additional offense. This truly elite skill and level of depth is what the Rangers lack at center yet they do have good young pieces to build around.
No one to fear in the East
This Rangers team, even as currently comprised (although it will surely change) can get back to a Cup Final in short order. Columbus will get better, Boston is big, nasty and deep, and of course Pittsburgh has the elite skill up front. But really, take a calculated look at the East for a moment.
Boston will face change (can they keep an old Iginla? Chara is aging, and the cap is calling), Pittsburgh may rip it up and start again. The Rangers? They have such balance in the way the roster is constructed right now.
I’m yet to be convinced Tampa have the truly elite talent to keep up their progress from this year and you always have to be wary of Detroit’s ability to build on the fly but with a few careful maneuvers this summer the Rangers, who have now accumulated all this playoff experience, can set themselves up for a few more productive seasons.
Chris Kreider is 23. He is a big man with serious speed, a nasty shot, who plays the body and whose ego doesn’t allow him to shy from the limelight. You get the impression Kreider wants to be the best player on the ice, even if he hasn’t quite put it all together yet. A little more patience from the Rangers and they’ll have themselves a beast in Kreider. At times in this playoff run, Kreider has done and been what Nash was meant to do, and meant to be. At 23 he already has 39 playoff games and 20 points under his belt. The Rangers really do have a young home grown forward to build around.
Whether it’s Kreider, the balance the Rangers enjoy or the emergence of a hockey stud from the outpost that is Norway there are a whole bunch of reasons Rangers fans can face up to a 3-0 series deficit with optimisim.
Will the Rangers turn this all around and win in seven? Maybe. Probably not. One such comeback in Hockey history suggests the Rangers are done. What the Rangers are not however, is one fluke run to the final. There’s plenty to build around in New York and that’s reason to be cheerful."Reasons to be cheerful",