Although the archaic phrase “defenses wins championships” may be a timeless and genuine assertion for the NFL, the New York Rangers have taken this mantra and have used it effectively to win one well-deserved victory after another. While the Rangers erratic offense has gotten them into trouble throughout the post season, their resilient defense has allowed them to compete where they have come up short in the past.
All of the Rangers heartfelt wins have resulted when their opponent averages 1.3 per goals game while their devastating losses have occurred when their opponent averages 3.3 goals per game. While the Rangers offense can score when they have to, this teams success is predicated on their defense saving the day time and time again. Even though this one-dimensional style of play may be a risky strategy, it has propelled the relentless Rangers to their first Conference Final since 2012.
The Crux of the Rangers disciplined defense is the always formidable and omnipresent Henrik Lundqvist. While Lundqvist’s save percentage of 92% during the regular season was impressive, his post-season concentration has been nearly impeccable with a save percentage of 93.4%. Although Lundqvist has had his fair share of off days, he rarely gives up an easy goal and when he does it’s usually the result of a random deflection that was impossible to anticipate.
However, once Lundqvist goes through a rough streak, his competitive nature and instinctual quickness only becomes more heightened and zoned in. Since Lundqvist gave up four goals to the Pittsburgh Penguins in game four of the conference semi-finals, he has only allowed five goals in his last four games. In game 2 against the Montreal Canadiens, Lundqvist took on 41 shots and gave up only one goal despite the aggressive shooting barrage that took place. If Lundqvist can continue to remain this vigilant and impenetrable, the Rangers will have their vital defensive leader in prime shape to battle for a Stanley Cup Championship.
While the defensive prowess of Lundqvist has been a miraculous sight to say the least, the Rangers do have physical goal scorers who are more than capable of capitalizing on offensive opportunities. Although Mats Zuccarello has never been a prolific shooter, his puck facilitating talents have always been exceptional as he assisted on 40 goals throughout the regular season. In the post season, Zuccarello has been a versatile offensive threat with four goals and seven assists, while his power play aptitude has been vital in the Rangers getting ahead when they have a decisive advantage (three power play assists in the post season).
Looking across the Rangers roster, it becomes easy to see that almost all of their key players have stepped up even if its just one game-winning goal. Between the youthful Chris Kreider’s essential contributions in big moments (one game winning goal and 3 assists in the post season) and the veteran leadership of Martin St. Louis (5 goals and 6 assists in the post season), the Rangers have a seemingly unlimited supply of capable athletes that can execute critical plays at the right time. While having a distinguished leader is an important unifying factor for any team, the New York Rangers have found a way to rally around a different player in every unique situation.
For this physically gifted team, all that matters is finding the player who has the biggest chip on his shoulder so they can consistently give him several opportunities to boost his confidence so he contribute emphatically to a well earned post victory. It may not always be pretty, but the Rangers down and dirty style of play is what has allowed them to bounce back and get ahead even when it seems they had played their last game. No matter how deep of a hole this team may dig itself from time to time, they always find a way to climb out only to scale their next obstacle with a sense of unwavering passion and driven determination.
When all is said and done, the New York Rangers are hitting their stride at the perfect moment. Although the battle hardened Montreal Canadiens won’t go away quietly, the Rangers have come out swinging and will continue to throw their most devastating punches until their opponent is down and out. While the Rangers still have to win this series and the next before supreme victory is finally theirs, they have proven that their defensive stinginess and versatile athletes are the real deal.