Nobody remembers the Presidents Trophy winners unless they win the Stanley Cup.
That has to be the thought process moving forward for the Rangers and their fans. As great as these last four months have been, it’s time to re-evaluate and get into playoff mode.
It was a great ride this season though. I remember in early December articles being written about how the Rangers should trade Marc Stall and try and package Rick Nash and Henrik Lundqvist for picks and young players. And honestly at the time, it didn’t seem like the craziest of ideas. Lundqvist seemed like he was aging fast, Nash’s stock was at an all-time high and the contract negotiations between the Rangers and Marc Stall were not going well. That was probably December 7th, because starting December 8th, with an overtime victory against the then first place Penguins, sparked the fire that has not gone out this season.
The Rangers are 40-11-3 since that December 8th win against the Penguins, the best in the NHL in that time span. The Rangers at that point were in 5th in the Metropolitan division, only two points ahead of the Devils. The Devils!!! Play, they were staring right down the LIRR line at John Tavares and co. dominate the Eastern Conference. It looked like there would be a changing of the guard. It looked like the Rangers reign of New York was coming crumbling down. The young kids from Long Island crashing the party the Rangers were supposed to host. But oh how the times have changed.
Since December 6th, when the Isles were at the top of the East with a 18-6-0 record, they’ve fallen to the 3rd spot in the Metropolitan Division, compiling a 27-20-6 record in that same amount of time. Is this relevant to how or why the Rangers will win the Stanley Cup? No, but it’s nice knowing that all is right with the world and the Rangers are better than the Islanders.
What has been so great about this season, and what we’ve learned about this Rangers team, is that they are able to overcome any obstacle that gets thrown their way, and they just continue winning. They started off the season in such horrid fashion, with Dan Boyle, Ryan McDonaugh and Derek Stepan all were out for the first month with injuries, and it clearly hindered the teams growth at the start of the year. This never went away either, it’s not like the Rangers escaped the injury bug after three of their star players got hit with month long injuries. No, after it seemed like the Rangers were back, winning six in a row, Derek Brassard and Tanner Glass go down with the mumps. Then the big one happened. January 31st, the Rangers have only lost four games in two months and the King is playing out of his mind. That game he catches a slapshot to the jugular causing a throat injury that was apparently life threatening. But like the boss he is he decided to play the next game before realizing that might have been the stupidest thing he’d ever done and the Rangers shut him down for the next 8 weeks.
The Rangers weren’t screwed. Things didn’t look great but they’d put themselves in such a position that as long as Cam Talbot did a serviceable job, the Rangers could make the playoffs as a wild card team, and hopefully get Lundqvist back in time to make another cinderella playoff run. Talbot was supposedly a good goalie but nobody knew. He was supposedly a top-tier NHL backup goalie, so he was going to get a chance to prove that maybe he could start for a team somewhere. What did Cam Talbot do? Oh yea, Cam Talbot decided to put the team on his back and make a run at the Division title.
Talbot had always showed signs of promise, it’s just that absolutely nobody was watching him as Henrik Lundqvist put on show after show, night after night. Cam Talbot was just the understudy who quietly waiting, getting ready to take the leading role at a moments notice. In the 21 games that Talbot played in the 2013-2014 season, he went 12-6-1 with three shutouts and a .941 Save% while allowing only an average of 1.64 goals per game. I mean, if you just even glanced at the stats you would’ve seen that this guy is a fantastic goalie. And once he got his shot to step up and wear the crown in Lundqvist’s time of need, he took it and never looked back. Talbot absolutely dominated in his time as the Rangers starter. He lost only seven games in two months as the interim goalie for the Rangers, and it wasn’t easy. There were nights when he was facing 30 or 40 shots, but interestingly enough, probably his most notorious win was a night where goals were flying left and right. The Islanders game in Mid February might have actually been the turning point in the Rangers season. That was and still might be the best game of the season to date and when Talbot shut down the Islanders potent offense in the 3rd period en route to the Rangers extraordinary comeback, the legend of Prince Talbot was born.
At that time the Rangers were jockeying for second place in the Metropolitan, now they’re at the top of the NHL. So what happened? The rest of the Metropolitan division didn’t collapse. The Capitals and Islanders were near the top of the standings for a long time, but the Rangers just kept winning. How? Well, the great thing about this team is that there is no “how” to what they’re doing. There is no one way this Rangers team is going to win on any given night.
This Rangers team is built on one thing. Depth. That’s how they’ve been able to survive all these rashes of injuries. For every starter on this team, there’s another player who could step right in and play just as well. Oh, Dan Boyle, you’re hurt? Kevin Klein will just come out of nowhere and produce. Not enough production from St. Louis? Well there’s Kevin Hayes stepping up and making plays every night. Henrik Lundqvist goes down? Well we know how that turned out.
Ok, so we’re here. The Rangers are clearly the best team in the NHL. Not even debatable. Lundqvist is back and healthy and playing just like his old self. The offense is firing on cylinders and the defense meshes better by the day. If you look everywhere, you’ll find that there are barely, if any holes in this team. So why not just give them the cup now? Save everybody the embarrassment? Well, not yet.