The Cup’s Return to New York (Part 1)

Chris DiMaria

If the regular season ended today, the New York Rangers and New York Islanders would be on a crash course to play each other for a spot in the Eastern Conference Championship. If that matchup happens, the winner will have a serious shot at winning the Stanley Cup.

The Cup hasn’t graced a New York City trophy case since 1994, but 2014-15 could very well be the season that that streak is broken. The Rangers and Islanders have shared significant time at the top of the Eastern Conference this year, and one of them will most likely end up representing the east in the Stanley Cup Finals. Here’s why the Rangers could be that team.

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The Rangers are one of the best teams statistically in the NHL. They are ranked third in both goals per game (3.0) and goals against (2.3), according to NHL.com. The Blueshirts’ success can be credited to their young, prolific goal scorers, and also their outstanding goalie play by Henrik Lundqvist and Cam Talbot.

When Lundqvist bowed out in favor of Cam Talbot on February 4th, Ranger fans learned that they would be seeing a lot more of their backup, with The King out for an extended period of time with a neck injury. Talbot was ready and willing to take on full-time duties, and responded to the call better than anyone expected.

Talbot currently sits fifth in the league among goaltenders in goals against average (2.21) and save percentage (.926), according to ESPN.com. Lundqvist is just behind his backup in those categories, ranking 9th and 10th, respectively.

The only team in the league with two goalies that sport numbers even close to the duo of Lundqvist and Talbot are the St. Louis Blues’ pairing of Brian Elliott and Jake Allen. Elliott is one-hundredth of a point ahead of Lundqvist in goals against average, whereas Allen ranks seventeenth.

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When the playoffs start, the Rangers will not have to worry about who is in net. That’s one huge advantage they have over the rest of the league. However, what makes playing against this team so difficult is they don’t give up goals, but they score a lot.

The Rangers have nine double-digit goal scorers, with a possibility of notching 12 by the end of the regular season. LW Rick Nash heads those scorers, ranking second in the league with 41 goals, according to NHL.com.

Sitting just under the 18 point-scorers on the team, the man to really keep an eye out for is D Keith Yandle. He is just starting to heat up with his new teammates after being acquired from the Arizona Coyotes on March 1st.

The Rangers’ forwards should keep an eye out for Yandle, as he is one of the most offensive-minded defensemen on the team. Before coming to New York, he had 37 assists on the season, to just four goals (Rotoworld). Yandle is still adjusting to the offensively powered New York state of mind, but he says he’s looking forward to helping his teammates as much as he can.

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“It’s a feeling-out process, getting used to the style of play and trying to learn where guys are on the ice, where they like the puck and where they want the puck,” Yandle said in a Rotoworld article. “It’s different coming into a situation where it’s such a good team. I’m trying to find my place and role on the team and trying to get comfortable with the situation after being in Phoenix for a while.”

Before Thursday’s game in Minnesota against the Wild, Yandle was riding a streak of six assists in as many games, according to ESPN.com. That matchup resulted in a win, and came as a statement for Yandle’s new team, as the Rangers clinched the Metropolitan Division.

For a team that started out 11-10-4 through their first 25 games, the Rangers really caught fire. They continue to surge towards the playoffs, and now have a realistic shot at becoming the regular-season winners of the Eastern Conference, and even claiming President’s Trophy. With 105 points, the Blueshirts are only two back of the league-leading Anaheim Ducks.

It takes skill and a little luck to hoist the Stanley Cup at the end of it all, and Vegas is saying the Rangers have the best chance to do that. Right now, the Rangers are the league favorites to win it all, going off at 13-2 (Bovada.lv).

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With the Metropolitan Division crown comes home ice advantage through at least the first two rounds for New York. As it stands, the Rangers would see their cross-town rivals the Islanders in the second of those, but there’s also a possibility for a big Eastern Conference Championship series in the Big Apple.

The Pittsburgh Penguins currently sit one point behind the Islanders. If the Pens can pass the Islanders and drop them into the first wild card slot, and the Rangers can stay atop the conference at the end of the regular season, the Islanders and the Rangers would find themselves on opposite sides of the Eastern Conference bracket, setting up a New York-style Eastern Conference Championship. Look out next week for why the Islanders could be hoisting the Stanley Cup at the end of the season.

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