In the first two rounds of the playoffs the New York Rangers looked pedestrian in many ways. But as they did all season long they found ways to win games when they mattered the most and survived tough tests from Pittsburgh and Carolina.
When the ECF started not many folks gave the Rangers a chance against the two time defending Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning. Hell, betting odds had Tampa as the favorite even though they didn’t have home ice and why wouldn’t they after Tampa swept a dynamic Florida Panthers team in round two.
We have all read and heard the knocks on this Rangers team this postseason of “not having played a starting goalie” through the first two rounds or that they rely too much on Igor Shesterkin or their special teams. The latter two really make me laugh because we’ve always heard in the playoffs you need to ride a hot goalie and have a great powerplay or penalty kill. Now that the Rangers have both in spades and it seems to be an issue, funny how that works. Nevertheless the Rangers have used as what many pundits seem to call deficits and make them positives aspects about this club.
One of the biggest knocks against this club has also been their age and their playoff experience or lack thereof. It’s no secret that the Blueshirts are long on youth and short on meaningful playoff hockey experience heading into this season. However they were gifted some nice on the job training by the Penguins and the Hurricanes and you can see how it’s truly benefited the club. Being down 3-1 in the first round and then 2-0 and 3-2 in round two showed the young Blueshirts just how you can’t take anything for granted come postseason time. No matter what you’ve done in the regular season, once the playoffs roll around, it doesn’t mean a damn thing.
The lack of playoff experience has seemed to benefit the club because so far through two games in the Conference Final as they’ve played extremely loose and as a team that has nothing to lose.
The Rangers have come out flying where as Tampa has looked like a group that’s feeling the grind of two back to back championship seasons. The Blueshirts youth has been on full display and their skating legs have taken center stage and helped put Tampa in a situation highly unfamiliar to them in the last three years. Full marks to the core of the new Rangers foundation Filip Chytil, Alexis Lafreniere, and Kaapo Kakko for leading the charge through the first two games and being a mismatch nightmare for the Bolts. K’Andre Miller has also elevated his game to a tremendous level to become a shutdown pair with Jacob Trouba that can bring it on both ends of the ice. Braden Schneider has also elevated his play to look more like a veteran than rookie for the majority of his time on the ice.
Then you add in the key depth pieces general manager Chris Drury added to the club that no team has been able to stifle and the Rangers are a force. Finally with the top veterans flying out of the gate here rather than emerging deeper in a series as they’ve done the previous two and the dynamics of this postseason run has clearly changed.
This Rangers group needs to not be complacent and remember a 2-0 series advantage can disappear in the blink of an eye knowing they just did it themselves a mere week ago. They’re also facing a club with championship DNA who’ll come out desperate in game three. But the Rangers have showed they believe in their coach, system, and most importantly themselves and that there’s surely no quit in New York.
With “systems” firing on all cylinders – the No Quit in NY mantra feels to be no longer just another slogan but the heart and soul identifier of this team.
Check out the latest 30 on Broadway Talking Blueshirts podcast which published just prior to game 1 of the Conference Final