Five Rangers roadblocks
Updated: April 12, 2012, 8:08 PM ETBy Katie Strang | ESPNNewYork.com
The Rangers won the Eastern Conference title, but are all the accolades a harbinger of things to come? Not so fast. Here are five things that could prevent the Rangers from winning the Stanley Cup.
1. Not enough depthThe collective gasp of Rangers fans when Derek Stepan was doubled over in pain following Brooks Orpik's nasty knee-to-knee hit last Thursday in Pittsburgh was practically audible from New York. Stepan's lower-body issue does not appear to be too serious, nor does goaltender Henrik Lundqvist's arm injury, but both minor ailments raise the larger issue at hand. Do the Rangers have the depth needed to go the distance? The team suffered two costly losses on the blue line -- Marc Staal's lengthy absence in the first half, followed by Michael Sauer's in the second -- but has been pretty healthy up front all season. The team's current top six forwards have missed a combined 11 games. Hulking enforcer John Scott does not appear to be an appealing option for coach John Tortorella and with call-up forward Mats Zuccarello injured (broken wrist), there are not many clear-cut candidates to step in should the Rangers need help. The team will sign top prospect Chris Kreider should he forego his senior season at Boston College and turn pro, but whether he has the ability to contribute at the NHL level, especially in the playoffs, remains to be seen.
2. The King goes southThis is not meant to downplay the value of Henrik Lundqvist, but rather underscore his utmost importance. The 30-year-old netminder has put together a brilliant, Vezina Trophy-caliber season and established himself as the undisputed team MVP. He has steadied the Rangers and stolen games to support the team's rise to the top of the Eastern Conference standings. If the Rangers are going to make a run at the Stanley Cup, they'll need him to be at the forefront of that effort. Lundqvist had a career-high 39 wins and was third in the league in both goals-against average (1.93) and save percentage (.931). He's lived up to his nickname as "the King," and the team cannot afford to see his rule falter.
3. The power-play woes returnThe bad news: The Rangers have toiled among the bottom five with a worrisome power-play success rate for virtually the entire season. The good news? The beleaguered special teams unit has done an about-face of late. The Rangers have tallied eight man-advantage goals in the past five games and have gone 8-for-24 (33.3 percent) during that span. Their puck movement has improved, as has the team's confidence, a good sign. The team has a staggering record when the power play is rolling: 25-2-4 in games during which it has recorded at least one power-play goal. And while the efficiency of the Rangers' special teams seems to be vital to their success, perhaps it isn't an absolute deal-breaker should it slacken. The defending Stanley Cup-champion Boston Bruins went 10-for-88 on the power play in the 2011 playoffs for a paltry 11.4 percent success rate.
4. The Penguins get in the wayWhen healthy, the Pittsburgh Penguins are still perceived by many as the most dangerous, and deepest, team in the league. Boasting a lineup with superstars Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, not to mention the likes of Jordan Staal, James Neal and Kris Letang, the Penguins might still be the team to beat. And should the two clubs meet in, say, the Eastern Conference finals, the odds are in Pittsburgh's favor. The Penguins beat the Rangers 5-2 in their last meeting, the Pens' fourth straight win against the Blueshirts this season.
5. Torts burnoutCoach John Tortorella will be in the conversation for the Jack Adams Award for coach of the year, and deservedly so. The fiery fixture has coaxed the utmost from a team that has surmounted obstacles at every turn, but it's hard to imagine his demanding style won't eventually tax players both physically and mentally. The team's success has been built on consistency and its ability to sustain such a high level of gritty, hard-nosed play. Though there have been slight dips and mini-skids throughout the season, the team never bottomed out, but even the tiniest slump might be enough to doom it in a best-of-seven series.
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