The Rangers are heading back to the playoffs, but to have any sort of shot at a Stanley Cup, a few key players must rise to the occasion.
With the NHL planning to return to action this summer, the New York Rangers are playoff-bound. After a two-year hiatus, the Blueshirts will once again have the chance to compete for Lord Stanley’s Cup. Although they squeaked their way into the postseason as a result of this year’s 24-team format, the Rangers are a dangerous opponent that nobody wants to face.
Up front, the Blueshirts are led by two superstars in Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad, who can both score as well as facilitate the offense. On the back end, there’s rookie-revelation Adam Fox and an emerging stud in Tony DeAngelo. Between the pipes, head coach David Quinn will likely turn to another rookie sensation, Igor Shesterkin, who won nine of his first 10 NHL starts.
The Rangers are young, talented, and hungry for success, which makes them a scary matchup for any team. Despite the fact that the Blueshirts are the 11-seed (out of 12) in the Eastern Conference, they have proven that they can play with the league’s best. David Quinn’s squad elevated their play when facing off against higher-level opponents, winning the season-series against other Eastern Conference playoff teams such as the Capitals, Penguins, Maple Leafs, Blue Jackets, Islanders, and Canadiens.
Regular-season success aside, the postseason is now New York’s focus. They can continue to be touted as a dark-horse sleeper, but in order to turn a playoff run into a reality, they’ll need some guys to step up and rise to the occasion.
Here are the three biggest Rangers’ X-factors in doing some damage in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
If the Blueshirts want to make any sort of noise in the postseason, they’ll have to shore up their defense, which was shaky and inconsistent during the regular season. The brunt of that responsibility will fall on the team’s most proven, supposed top-defenseman — Jacob Trouba.
The Rangers parted with assets to acquire Trouba and signed him to a massive seven-year, $56 million extension with the expectation that he’d immediately come in and stabilize their defense, serving as a top-pair, shutdown blue-liner. His first season on Broadway didn’t go according to plan. The former Winnipeg Jet was part of the problem on New York’s defense rather than the solution.
Trouba struggled from the get-go, looking like a shell of his former self. He failed to find a consistent partner and was replaced on the top pair by Fox. While the 26-year-old did show some flashes and played a few excellent games, he needs to perform at that high level regularly. It also looked as if he may have been dealing with an injury during the season, so the time off should serve him well.
As one of the team’s most established and experienced defensemen, the Blueshirts will need more from Trouba in the playoffs in order to make any sort of run. He’ll be heavily relied upon to anchor the blue-line.
The Rangers’ top-six is potent, but there is a steep drop-off in offensive effectiveness on their third and fourth lines. Panarin and Zibanejad are elite players, yet they and their linemates can only carry the team so far. They’ll need talented third-line center Filip Chytil to pick up some slack.
In order to win playoff games, the Blueshirts will need some secondary-scoring. Just look at their formula for success in the 2014 playoffs, in which they were led by their third line of Mats Zuccarello, Derick Brassard, and Benoit Pouliot. Chytil is capable of providing that much-needed depth-scoring, as evidenced by his 14 tallies in the regular season, but he must find the back of the net more consistently and also elevate the play of his linemates.
Since David Quinn likes to mix and match within his bottom-six, it’s unclear exactly who Chytil’s wingers will be. Regardless, the former first-round pick will be tasked with leading a crucial trio. Teams must be able to confidently roll at least three skilled lines to flourish in the postseason. It’s on the blossoming young pivot to take the Blueshirts’ third-line to the next level.
For Pavel Buchnevich, the story is no different than it has been in the past. The enigmatic Russian is coming off of another relatively productive, but streaky campaign. He was snakebitten for a large portion of the season, though he also thrived at times.
When Buchnevich is engaged and at the top of his game, the KZB line is as dangerous as they come. On the other hand, If the 25-year-old is in the midst of one of his cold streaks, they lose a dimension. With Buchnevich firing on all cylinders, the Blueshirts are simply a much more complete team.
At the end of the day, the Rangers are underdogs for a reason. They have their deficiencies. For that reason, they’ll need to bring their A-game to contend for the Stanley Cup. And when New York is at their best, Pavel Buchnevich is contributing.
All in all, ahead lies a tough road for the Broadway Blueshirts. They’ll take on the Carolina Hurricanes in the playoffs’ qualifying round, and the winner of that best-of-five series will face either the Boston Bruins, Washington Capitals, Tampa Bay Lightning, or Philadelphia Flyers.
The Stanley Cup is already the hardest trophy to win in sports, and now the Rangers will have to win an extra series in order to do so. The odds of a miracle run to the finals are very slim, but they do exist.
I don’t expect to see the Blueshirts hoisting the cup in September. However, if they’ve taught us one thing this season, it is to never count them out.