Everything’s going according to plan for playoff bound RangersMarch 28, 2017, by
Alain Vigneault and co. would never publicly admit their glee about how their team’s playoff picture is unfolding, but things are progressing quite nicely for the Blueshirts.
Start with the obvious – the rejiggered playoff format will allow New York to open against the Atlantic Division winner (likely either Montreal or Ottawa), then square off with a second Atlantic foe should they advance, while the juggernaut Penguins, Capitals and Blue Jackets beat the heck out of each other. Those Atlantic foes shouldn’t be taken lightly, but advancing through that half of the bracket looks infinitely easier than the Metro murderer’s row.
In their slot as the Eastern Conference’s first wild card, the Blueshirts will be the road team for the duration of their playoff run. Normally that’s cause for concern, but not so much for a club that’s threatening the single-season road wins record and also possesses perhaps the best Game 7 goalie in league history.
Regarding that goalie – Henrik Lundqvist has had his ups and downs this year, but he’s been locked in for a couple months now. Vigneault acknowledged that Lundqvist could have returned earlier if the Rangers had anything on the line, but without that pressure Lundqvist enjoyed a bit of late-season rest that could be a huge factor as yet another late-spring run unfolds.
Lundqvist isn’t the only player who should benefit from some time to recharge. Defensemen Dan Girardi and Kevin Klein have been warriors for several seasons but have been breaking down with increasing frequency. Whether they’re actually deserving of positions in the starting six or not is debatable – but they should at least be in position to put their best foot forward with a few weeks of rest to gear up for the marathon ahead.
And if they’re not up to the task, the Blueshirts possess several other valid options on the blueline that could be rotated into the lineup. Trade deadline pickup Brendan Smith has been rock solid since his arrival, and spare D-men Adam Clendening and Steven Kampfer have both proven they’re capable of playing regular minutes when Vigneault wants to give them a chance.
That depth is also reflected up front, where the Rangers are once again fully healthy and able to roll four solid lines without glaring weakness. The team’s best 12 attackers are relatively obvious, but it’s a luxury that the likes of Brandon Pirri, Matt Puempel and Tanner Glass are available should the team need a little help on the power play or some added snarl.
Another added plus is that there’s no shortage of motivation for this group. Last year’s playoff disappointment is still a fresh memory, and the recent struggles – especially on home ice – are clearly eating at the team. The recent slump should serve as a reminder that nothing but the team’s best collective effort will be enough in the postseason.
On an individual basis, several long-time heroes have something to prove this time around – starting with Lundqvist in net and also including the beleaguered veteran defensemen, slumping Derek Stepan, and frequent playoff goat, Rick Nash.
All of this may make it sound like the Rangers will coast their way to the Cup and that is assuredly not the case based on the team’s play over the last few weeks. But New York has tried to tweak the recipe in subtle ways each year to no avail, so this year’s plan includes some unique new wrinkles that offer their own reasons for optimism.
Will the easier path, rested soldiers, added depth and bonus motivation actually pay dividends? We’ll just have to wait and see."Everything's going according to plan for playoff bound Rangers",