The New York Rangers finished the regular season as the NHL's second-best team with a 51-24-7 record with 109 points. New York has concluded the year with at least 109 points three times in its history: the 1970-71, 1971-72 and 1993-94, losing in the simi-finals, Stanley Cup finals and winning the whole thing in 1994.
But all these comparisons don't matter as Part 2 of the season kicks off Thursday against the Ottawa Senators. Nobody cares what your record was the first 82 games. The 82-game season is essentially a long dress rehearsal for the playoffs, which are a new beast. Teams are defined by their success in the postseason, and the Rangers will be no different.
Last season, the 93-point Rangers were knocked out of the playoffs in four games by the Capitals. With the season they had this year, though, the expectations are much higher, and New York wants a Stanley Cup. What are the keys for that to happen?
1) Henrik Lundqvist. The frontrunner for the Vezina Trophy has had his best season with a 39-18-5 record, 1.97 goals-against average and .930 save percentage. Throughout his career, he's been excellent in the regular season, then dipped in the postseason. New York geared back his games played to 62 this season because it felt he was a little worn down in previous playoffs. To win in the playoffs -- in games that are often very tight -- you need your goaltender to carry you. Lundqvist has been the backbone all year, now he needs to do it when every game is on the line.
2) Health. Beyond Marc Staal's concussion, Mats Zuccarello's broken wrist and other bumps and bruises along the way, the Rangers have been lucky on the injury front for the most part this season. With the way they put their bodies on the line and block shots, the chances are always greater for a freak accident. There isn't a ton of depth to rely on if an injury strikes. Further, no team can afford an injury in the playoffs, not even one with the sort of chemistry that has formed in New York.
3) Power play. Besides goaltending, special teams is always a decisive factor in the playoffs. The Rangers have proven to be a solid penalty-killing team, fifth in the league, at 86.2 percent, so the bigger issue comes on the power play. It ranked 23rd in the league this season, often flirting with league-worst numbers. The bright side is that it has improved dramatically over the past month, scoring eight goals over the last six games. Too many times this season it has quelled momentum, instead of (scoring) or generating it. That can't happen now.
4) Young players' growth. Part of the maturation of a young player is their inclusion in playoff hockey, and then their success in it. The Rangers have a few guys who have tasted it, one (maybe more) who have not. This is where the addition of Brad Richards and Mike Rupp makes a difference, as they're two guys who have both won Stanley Cups.
5) Staying true to the gameplan. The Rangers have been a very consistent team this season, losing three games in a row once all year, and that's a testament to their chemistry and buy-in to Tortorella's style. They've dealt with starting the year with seven games in a row, a few of which came in Europe. They passed the Winter Classic month-long test. Altogether, they've been a resilient bunch, even within games. They've shown they know how to deal with adversity. But can they overcome it when the spotlight is on and the games really count?