Sunday, 3 April 2011

Team Heart Attack

If I'm Philadelphia or Washington at this point, I'm dreading the thought at meeting the New York Rangers in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. After today's win over the Philadelphia Flyers in dramatic fashion that resembled the last game of the season last year between these two teams, the Rangers are making things very difficult for the top teams in the Eastern Conference while putting a ton of pressure on the teams trailing them in the standings. The Rangers are becoming a very dangerous team, and they appear to gaining momentum down the stretch as they work towards securing a playoff spot.

The Rangers have now won eight times in their last twelve outings, and have beaten San Jose, Pittsburgh, Boston, and Philadelphia twice over those twelve games. That's a pretty impressive list of teams they have dismissed in games. While there's no chance of meeting up with San Jose in the Eastern Conference, the other three teams could potentially be a first- or second-round playoff series.

Of course, New York shouldn't be content with their record against these teams thus far. Looking back over the season, the Rangers are 2-4 against Philadelphia, 4-2 against Pittsburgh, and 3-1 against Boston with one game to play. The problem is that unless Tampa Bay, Montreal, and Buffalo falter, the Penguins and Rangers probably won't meet in the playoffs in the opening round. The Rangers have a shot at Boston, but need some help there too.

As it stands, it appears that New York's most likely opponent will either be the Philadelphia Flyers or the Washington Capitals. The Rangers were 3-1 against the Capitals this season, so I'm guessing that the Rangers would like to play the Capitals more than they would the Flyers based on their records against those teams.

However, the last two games against Philadelphia showed three things that the Rangers do very well against the Flyers, and they used these factors to beat Washington three out of four times.

First, the transition and speed of the Rangers from defence to offence is pretty scary. The Rangers have wheels with Gaborik, Callahan, Dubinsky, Stepan, and Anisimov leading the rush. All five of those players are atop the scoring stats for the Rangers, so there's a ton of speedy talent that the Rangers can boast. The Rangers showed an uncanny ability to generate and convert odd-man rushes over the last twelve games, and it's something that opposing teams need to be wary of when playing the Rangers.

Secondly, Dan Girardi is the second coming of Craig Ludwig. Through 78 games, Girardi has blocked an amazing 231 shots! That's 30 more than second-place Greg Zanon of the Minnesota Wild! Girardi is a full 123 blocked shots better than teammate Marc Staal who is second on the Rangers! After watching him block about a hundred shots against Philly today, Girardi could become one of the most important pieces in a playoff upset.

Lastly, is Henrik Lundqvist the best goalie in the NHL right now? He sure looks like he wants to make a case for everyone to consider him as top-flight NHL goalie. There's no doubt that Lundqvist is one of the top goalies in the NHL that has only won international glory, but Lundqvist is really getting hot at the right time. If he can carry this hot streak into the playoffs, the Rangers will be dangerous.

One thing is for sure, though: the Rangers' ride into the playoffs have been thrilling. And it could lead to more heart-stopping action!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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