>Back From the Dead: A 2011 Rangers Playoff Preview

Posted: April 13, 2011 by Keith Stone in NHL, Rangers, Stanley Cup Playoffs


Despite finishing the season on an impressive 11-4-1 swing, the Rangers still needed help to make the playoffs. Only after a 6-2 Tampa Bay win over Carolina was it finally time to celebrate. It was that type of year for the Blueshirts. Nothing was ever easy for a young team that had trouble scoring and dealt with a lot of injuries.

The Rangers defense was its strong suit all year. They aren’t the most talented team by far but they might be the most gritty and hard-working. Nobody is afraid to make a hit or block a shot, as evidenced by Ryan Callahan breaking his ankle by taking a Zdeno Chara slapshot in a game the Rangers needed to win. Marc Staal and Dan Girardi elevated their game to become one of the NHL’s best defensive pairings and recently-acquired Bryan McCabe is the quarterback on the power play that the Rangers were missing for years.

Of course, any defense looks great when it’s backed by all-world netminder Henrik Lundqvist. Lundqvist is the only irreplaceable part on the team and was 6th in the NHL in both save percentage and GAA. He also played the least amount of games this year since his rookie year although he’s played in 26 straight games after backup Martin Biron went down with a broken collarbone. Lundqvist should be fresh for the playoffs and if he gets hot, he can take over a playoff series.

The offense is the one big question. Marian Gaborik followed up his 42-goal season with 20 less and nobody has stepped up to fill the void. The Rangers have had games where they exploded for six or seven goals but there have too often been games against weak teams where the Rangers struggle to get anything on the board. Surprisingly, they ranked fifth in the league in goal differential due in large part to the D.

The injuries haven’t helped as Gaborik, Callahan, Chris Drury, Brandon Dubinsky, Vinny Prospal, and Alex Frolov have missed significant time. Before Cally went down, it was the healthiest the team had been all season. Prospal was playing well although Gaborik was struggling to get into the swing of things and hasn’t scored a goal in nine games. Drury returned for the last game of the season and scored a huge goal, his only one of the season. Don’t sleep on the captain. Clutch is his middle name.

The Rangers are one of those teams that plays to the level of their opponent. Teams like that usually struggle in the playoffs. They won the season series against Washington 3-1 but lost games down the stretch to teams playing out the string like the Islanders, Ottawa, and Atlanta. The Capitals are a high-powered team and also enter the playoffs on a hot streak. The key will be staying physical, especially with Alex Ovechkin.

The Rangers’ one big advantage is in net, where the Caps are starting rookie Michal Neuvirth who has played less career games than Lundqvist played this season. Washington also has a history of bombing out in the playoffs and has been eliminated in the first round two of the past three years. That other year they beat the Rangers in seven despite falling in a 3-1 hole.

The Blueshirts and Lundqvist should be able to keep the Capitals from exploding on the score board. The one question is are they going to score goals themselves? The power play, which has scored once in its last 27 tries, needs to come alive. If the Rangers can’t score on Neuvirth, they don’t deserve to be in the playoffs anyway. The Caps are far more talented but the youthful Rangers are built on outworking their opponent. Several Rangers will be making their playoff debut tonight. If they hold their own and play consistently, they’re going to be trouble for any team.

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