In the summer I whittled my possible Stanley Cup winners down to four teams for our annual Yearbook predictions: the St. Louis Blues (THN’s pick), Anaheim Ducks, Detroit Red Wings and New York Rangers. I was tempted to go with the Ducks for sentimental reasons (Teemu Selanne), but in the end I opted for sound hockey reasons, as well as some sweet symmetry, and went with the Rangers.
I floated my prediction through the Twittersphere and, as expected, my prognostication was universally ridiculed.
It was all well warranted about a month into 2013-14, as my pick wasn’t looking pretty. Downright ugly, actually.
Due to renovations at Madison Square Garden, the Rangers had to start the season with a brutal nine-game road trip and got off to a 2-6-0 mark. They were having a terrible time scoring, Rick Nash had been knocked out with a concussion in the third game and Henrik Lundqvist couldn’t stop a beach ball if it were lobbed at him. To make matters worse, the Blueshirts weren’t just losing – they were getting beat badly, including successive losses to Anaheim, San Jose and St. Louis, who outscored them 20-5.
The Rangers limped into Detroit for the final game of the road trip and looked like easy pickings for the Red Wings, who took a 2-1 lead heading into the third period of that game. But Mats Zuccarello scored to send the game into overtime, and Derick Brassard scored with 13 seconds left to send the Rangers home on a high.
With that game, their record ranks among the best teams in the league since:
Boston: 46-16-9, 101 pts.
St. Louis: 47-20-5, 99 pts.
Anaheim: 44-17-8, 96 pts.
Pittsburgh: 44-21-5, 93 pts.
Colorado: 43-20-7, 93 pts.
Chicago: 40-18-12, 92 pts.
New York: 43-25-5, 91 pts.
San Jose: 41-21-8, 90 pts.
Also, the Blueshirts have the second-most road wins (25) in the NHL behind only the Colorado Avalanche (26). Cup contenders have to be road warriors if they hope to sip champagne from Stanley's mug.
Being in the Metro the Rangers have the smoothest route through the first two rounds of any division. (Yes, they'll beat the Pittsburgh Penguins, after Marc-Andre Fleury flames out in the post-season…yet again). What about the Bruins in Round 3, you say? Good question, easy answer. They won’t face them. The Montreal Canadiens always play the B’s tough, and I’m banking on them upsetting their longtime rivals in the Atlantic Division final, setting up a Rangers’ romp over a roughed up Habs squad in the Eastern Conference final.
I picked the Rangers in the summer for the same reasons I’m sticking with them now. They have balanced scoring (Zuccarello, Derek Stepan, Brad Richards, Brassard, et al.) a blue-collar yet puck-moving defense (Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi, Marc Staal), an all-world goaltender with 'King Henrik' and one of the most underrated coaches in Alain Vigneault, who was wildly underappreciated in Vancouver as we’ve found out this season. And as one of the wealthiest teams in the league, the Rangers were sure to make a big splash at the trade deadline if they felt they were a contender. Enter last year’s Art Ross Trophy winner, Martin St. Louis, into the Manhattan mix.
Finally, the symmetry mentioned above is the 20th anniversary of the Rangers’ Stanley Cup in 1994 – their first in 54 years and the only one in the past 74.
My fellow associate editor, Matt Larkin, and I just finished the final touches on a 20th anniversary oral history feature of the Rangers’ 1994 title for our forthcoming issue. I’m normally not one for allowing serendipity to sneak into decision-making, but it would be sweet if the Blueshirts were to win it all this June. And after hearing the boyish enthusiasm still dripping from the players’ mouths two decades later, I’m hoping even more that the Rangers win it all again in 2014.