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Final thoughts as Rangers outlasted by Kings

Unofficial Conn Smythe winner. Photo: Willens/AP

Unofficial Conn Smythe winner. Photo: Willens/AP

The Rangers came up short, for the fourth and final time in the Stanley Cup finals on Friday night. Dustin Brown hoisted the Cup for the Kings for the second time in three years and the Rangers are left to think what could have been. Sorry for no goal breakdown today but here’s a few thoughts and reflections on game five and the Rangers in general. Chin up Rangers fans, our team did us proud.

The World’s best: Henrik Lundqvist cannot do more than he did last night or in the entire series. He has emphatically proven he is the best goalie in the world and should have been a Conn Smythe contender even on a losing team.

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Rangers stay alive; post game thoughts

Winner. Photo by Scott Levy/NHLI via Getty Images

Winner. Photo by Scott Levy/NHLI via Getty Images

Stay of execution or the start of something special? The Rangers held on to get their first win of the Cup finals Wednesday night and give the fan base a glimmer of hope. Let’s have a little muse about how things went down.

Earlier this week we considered a few reasons to be cheerful despite the Rangers being 3 down in the series. One of those reasons was Chris Kreider who had a huge part to play in the game winning goal. Kreider’s mere presence causes problems, even against the best defenses in the league.

If Kreider can continue to go to the net, continue to play physically and get a little less reckless in his own zone, the sky’s the limit. Yes, Kreider needs to develop more facets to his game but he’s already scaring teams.

Martin St Louis. He leads the team in goals; he has three game winning tallies amongst his eight markers. If someone told me the Rangers would give up two first round picks and a captain that was pricing himself out of town for a trip to the Finals, I’d have definitely taken that deal. Well, that’s what we got. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and while St Louis hasn’t been brilliant every game he’s certainly justified Sather’s decision to bring him to New York.

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Reasons to be cheerful

Don't worry be happy. Photo: Andrew Theodorakis/New York Daily News

Don’t worry be happy. Photo: Andrew Theodorakis/New York Daily News

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.

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Three Key Rangers that need to be better in game two

The Rangers needs more from Zuccarello, starting tonight.

The Rangers needs more from Zuccarello, starting tonight.

The Rangers enter tonight’s crucial game two trailing the Kings after one and given the Rangers relative poor home form it’s essential they get even in the series tonight. The Rangers could really do with winning tonight’s game two as the pressure would be back on the Kings heading to New York. To do so, several Rangers are going to have to improve on their recent performances. Let’s take a look at three Rangers who could have a huge influence on tonight’s game with improved performances.

Mats Zuccarello

Following a breakout year leading the Rangers offensively and being part of the club’s most consistent line all year long, things have gone stale for the little Norwegian. With no points in his last six playoff games Zuccarello is the definition of cold. For a team with no obvious, go-to offensive producer and for a team reliant on balanced scoring Zuccarello can’t remain so ineffective in game two.

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How far can Carl Hagelin take his game?

Photo: Chris O'Meara/AP

Speed Kills. It can also score goals. Photo: Chris O’Meara/AP

If Carl Hagelin can develop some consistency in his offensive game and improve his decision making, he could be an elite talent. Yes, the Rangers cruelly lost the first game in the Finals against the Los Angeles Kings, but there were positives to be seen and one of them was and continues to be the growth of Carl Hagelin.

Hagelin’s speed terrifies people. It was the focal point of the first portion of Game One in LA, and the Rangers should really focus their offensive game plan around Hagelin and Chris Kreider’s speed. When those two players arrive in the offensive zone at full speed, it’s pretty daunting for opposition defenses.

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Plenty of motivation to be found throughout the Rangers

Photo: Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images

Photo: Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images

If the opportunity to win the Stanley Cup wasn’t motivation enough (it is), several Rangers have additional motivation to step up and perform against the Los Angeles Kings starting Wednesday night.

Mats Zuccarello, Benoit Pouliot and Derick Brassard have been the Rangers most consistent forward line all season, and all three go into the Cup Final looking to earn extended stays with the Rangers. Zuccarello in particular can be considered a foregone conclusion. For the little Norwegian, it’s now about how big can he make his next deal and that is a strong motivator.

Brassard and Pouliot’s talent and relative success should make them both Rangers beyond this summer, but a strong Finals series would also give them a strong position to negotiate from. Worst case scenario, they’re entering hockey’s biggest shop window. Pouliot in particular would like to earn a multi-year deal from someone.

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Rangers need someone to emerge from impressive team depth

Does Kreider have the overall game to be the Rangers go-to guy on offense? (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Does Kreider have the overall game to be the Rangers go-to guy on offense? (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The Rangers are on the cusp of the Stanley Cup for several reasons, but one of the main reasons is their team depth. Eight players currently have ten or more points in this years playoffs, while nine forwards currently average over fourteen minutes per game. However, among this depth is also a lingering problem; no player has truly emerged as the go-to guy on offense.

Martin St Louis has recently shown a consistency that the entire league has been accustomed to seeing from him for a decade, and when you factor in his tragic circumstances, his performance has been admirable. Meanwhile Chris Kreider has produced in bursts and is the only Ranger that is producing at a point per game rate (nine in ten, to date) but Kreider has been defensively erratic and has produced in bunches. Can he be relied upon to be THE difference maker?

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Derick Brassard a crucial cog in the Rangers playoff machine

Derick Brassard, clutch playoff performer and crucial tonight.

Derick Brassard, clutch playoff performer and crucial tonight.

Whether it was with the Columbus Blue Jackets or the New York Rangers, Derick Brassard has often left the impression that the best is yet to come. One thing Brassard has always done however, is respond positively to criticism or droughts, and has developed an encouraging tendency to turn up in the big games. It all bodes well then for the rest of the playoffs, but also with regard to his future as a Ranger.

Brassard is arguably one of the most naturally gifted players on a Rangers team that has a handful of All Star calibre players and potential Hall of Fame candidates. It is perhaps Brassard’s presence – and playmaking ability – that makes the departure of Brad Richards in the summer so likely. Also, it is Brassard that makes recruiting an eventual Richards replacement an option rather than a necessity.

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How Rick Nash can become a Ranger legend

Win a Cup, be a Legend. Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Win a Cup, be a Legend. Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

It’s funny how some things turn out. Rick Nash has often been derided for his play in the postseason as a Ranger, and he certainly deserves his fair share of criticism for his lack of production. All of a sudden however, Nash has a modest two-game goal scoring streak to back up his excellent work off the puck and his play on the penalty kill. The Rangers also find themselves within two games of the Stanley Cup Finals with two elite wingers (including Martin St. Louis) slowly heating up. Things could be worse in Ranger town.

Much like Marian Gaborik once was, Nash has been accused of letting his teams down when it mattered most (the postseason). His lack of goals has often overshadowed the fact that Nash has been a solid contributor in so many areas of the game this year for a Rangers team that has spread the wealth offensively. The Rangers are where they are because they can ice four lines that can hurt the opposition. Luckily, Nash hasn’t needed to be brilliant offensively.

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The Musings: Just how good is the Rangers defense?

Dom Moore: Hugely deserving of a new deal this summer (Photo: Dave Sandford/NHLI)

Dom Moore: Hugely deserving of a new deal this summer (Photo: Dave Sandford/NHLI)

The Rangers are within two wins of the fan base going crazy with excitement. With the danger of looking too far ahead, let’s keep it sane and throw up a musings a day early shall we?

So much in sport depends on timing. Success is so often about peaking at the right time. In Henrik Lundqvist the Rangers have the best goalie in the world playing at the very top of his game. A (the?) leading Conn Smythe candidate, the Rangers have a huge advantage when he’s on his game. Right now it’s on fluke deflections that seem to be his undoing.

We’ve discussed it before, but the way he’s elevated his game (even further) in recent weeks it needs saying again; the Rangers have to keep Dominic Moore beyond this season, don’t they? Moore has beyond a strong penalty killer, a great defensive presence and has chipped in with leadership, some offense and filled in admirably for Derick Brassard. He’s a keeper.

Prediction: Ryan McDonagh will win a Norris trophy within the next four years. Not a wild prediction.

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