Alex Pietrangelo, Brad Marchand
ESNY Graphic, AP Photo

Winners of Game 5, the St. Louis Blues are on the brink. The New York Rangers can learn a lot from this Stanley Cup Final.

As we sit here in the thick of the Stanley Cup Final, what better to do than to learn from our two finalists?

There is plenty for the New York Rangers to take away from the Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues.

Offense and Defense wins Championships

It has long been said that “defense wins championships.” The St. Louis Blues and Boston Bruins have debunked this myth. Neither of these two teams has relied too heavily on one aspect of their game. Both teams have made it this far as a result of their balance. The takeaway is that an elite offense and defense is necessary in order to win the Stanley Cup

The Bruins have plenty of talent up front. They are led by three superstars in four-time Selke Trophy winner Patrice Bergeron, the supremely-talented David Pastrnak, and the National Hockey League’s most skilled and successful agitator: Brad Marchand. Aside from the star power, what makes Boston’s forward group so special is its depth. David Krejci, Jake DeBrusk, Marcus Johansson, Charlie Coyle and Danton Heinen anchor the rest of Bruce Cassidy’s top nine.

For the Blues, it’s Vladimir Tarasenko, Ryan O’Reilly and Brayden Schenn who lead the way. Outside of these three studs, St. Louis receives large contributions from veterans Jaden Schwartz, Alex Steen, David Perron and Tyler Bozak.

Both defenses are just impressive. The Bruins blue-line consists of stars such as Zdeno Chara, Charlie McAvoy, Torey Krug and Brandon Carlo. John Moore and Matt Grzelcyk provide quality insurance as well.

Blue’s head coach Craig Berube’s defensive-core is arguably stronger. Alex Pietrangelo, Colton Parayko, Jay Bouwmeester, Vince Dunn, Robert Bortuzzo and Joel Edmundson man one of the league’s steadiest back-ends.

Lundqvist-esque Goaltending is Key

This year is no different from most others. As proven time and time again, a strong goalie is necessary for a deep playoff run. Tuukka Rask and Jordan Binnington have been excellent throughout this entire postseason, and are some of the top Conn Smythe Trophy candidates for their respective teams.

Rask boasts a 14-7-0 record with a jaw-dropping 1.96 GAA and .938 SV%. Binnington’s are almost equally impressive. The rookie netminder is 14-9-0 and possesses a 2.52 GAA and .909 SV%. The more noteworthy numbers regarding the St. Louis netminder is the fact that he is 7-2-0 following a loss, and posts a 1.86 GAA and a .933 SV% in such games.

The goaltenders are not the only reasons for their team’s success. After all, Henrik Lundqvist has proven over the years that spectacular goaltending isn’t quite enough to win a championship. However, the performances of Rask and Binnington have played a big role in the miraculous runs of the Bruins and Blues.

Superstars are Needed

One thing that always killed the Rangers during their recent golden age of hockey was their lack of star-power. Come springtime, teams need to have their big-guns that they can rely on. These guys should be able to put the rest of the squad on their backs. Instead of this, the Rangers offense and defense were always run by committee. This year’s final has again proven that superstars are a necessity.

Pastrnak, Bergeron, Marchand, Tarasenko and O’Reilly are the offensive stars of this year’s final. Krug, McAvoy, Pietrangelo, and Parayko headline the group of defensemen.

Fortunately, it looks like the Rangers may have found their superstar. New York’s No. 2 overall pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft should turn out to be an absolute stud. There are even others already within the organization that have star potential including Vitali Kravtsov, Mika Zibanejad and K’Andre Miller.

It looks like the Rangers, hopefully, won’t be dealing with the same issues during their next crack at Lord Stanley’s Cup.

Right Place at the Right Time

If there’s one thing to learn from this year’s playoff, this is it. It’s all about heating up at the right time. After a historic regular season, the Tampa Bay Lightning were ousted in round one, whereas the Blues, who occupied last place in the NHL standings in January, are playing for the Stanley Cup.

While the Bruins ended up having a tremendous regular reason, it wasn’t always trending that direction. Boston went on a late-season run, winning 11 of 14 contests in March that elevated them toward the top of the Eastern Conference. Boston was able to carry this confidence, swagger and momentum into the postseason. It’s served them well.

The Blues had a meteoric rise going from the bottom of the league all the way up to third place in the Central Division, which put them only one win shy of a division title. St. Louis caught fire in the second half of the season, and it resulted in a playoff berth. Losing only two of their final 10 games, Berube’s squad entered the playoffs firing on all cylinders. This has obviously worked to their advantage.

It’s become pretty clear that it’s important not to put too much stock into the regular season. The greatest asset for a team entering the playoffs is a hot streak.

Build through the draft

This year’s final shows how important it is to draft well. Having relied on free agency and trades to acquire many of their top players for far too long, it’s time that the Blueshirts learn their lesson. Great teams are built through the draft.

Tarasenko, Schwartz, Perron, Pietrangelo, Parayko, Dunn, Edmundson and Binnington. You wouldn’t be wrong if you argued that this list is simply the Blues top line, top two pairings, and their starting goaltender. But that’s not the reason I have listed the aforementioned names. All of those guys were drafted by St. Louis. Clearly, the Blues are doing something right in their scouting process.

The same thing applies to the Bruins. Some of the Bruins draftees are Marchand, Bergeron, Pastrnak, Krejci, Heinen, Carlo, McAvoy and Grzelcyk. I’d call it an equally impressive collection of players.

This should be good news for Rangers fans. With New York’s surplus of draft picks this year and over the last two years, the Blueshirts might be able to put together a similar list of their own in the not-so-distant future.

New York Rangers

Clutch Performers

One common theme that’s propelled both the Bruins and Blues to this point is that both teams have reaped the benefits of unlikely heroes stepping up on the big stage.

For Boston, it has been Coyle, Johansson, and Sean Kuraly. Coyle has notched 16 points in 21 postseason contests. He only had 34 points in 81 regular season games. Johansson has tallied 11 points in 19 playoff games. Kuraly only has nine points, but his offense has been timely. All three of these guys have proven to be pleasant surprises, and they have given the Bruin’s some much-needed secondary scoring.

In terms of the Blues, it’s mainly been Schwartz. In my opinion, the 26-year-old is a heck of a player, but he had a disastrous 2018-2019 campaign in which he scored only 36 points in just 69 games. He’s certainly made up for his disappointing regular reason with his playoff heroics. Schwartz leads the way for the Blues with 18 points in 23 contests. Others like Bozak and Perron have also made major contributions, as they have totaled 12 and 13 points respectively.

Clutch playoff performances shouldn’t be a new concept to Rangerstown. Chris Kreider, Carl Hagelin, Benoit Pouliot, Derick Brassard and Derek Stepan all put forth a postseason of this manner at some point during their Blueshirts tenure. With almost all of this group having departed, the question becomes who New York’s next group of playoff performers will be?

Leadership is key

Think about some of the guys across the NHL who are known for simply being terrific leaders. Think about guys with tons of playoff experience who are supposed to be great teammates. Who comes to mind when thinking of the word leadership in hockey? Chara, Bergeron, Pietrangelo and O’Reilly certainly all pop into my head. This is no coincidence. Who did I forget about? Oh yeah, Joe Thornton and Justin Williams … both of their teams lost in the conference finals. There’s a clear correlation between leadership and playoff success.

Think back to the Rangers teams that went on deep playoff runs. New York had quite the leadership group with guys like Brad Richards, Martin St. Louis, Dan Girardi, Marc Staal, Ryan McDonagh, Ryan Callahan, Rick Nash, Dominic Moore, Mats Zuccarello and Brian Boyle.

There’s a reason that the New York Rangers achieved immense playoff success between 2010 and 2016. Their leadership groups were consistently top notch.

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