Getting out of the first round of the playoffs in any sport require some skill, some grit and not just being better at being average than a few other teams. The difference between the winners and losers in the second round are a lot easier to identify than the what separates ninth and tenth place teams from seventh and eight.
For the New York Rangers there are three fundamental points where this team is lacking the elements needed to move them from the pretender to contender category.
First and most obviously, the team needs speed. Neither the Boston Bruins nor the Washington Capitals are top teir speed team. Yet the Bruins had little trouble playing around an out of reach of the Rangers. The Bruins handled them in five games and that’s surprising given how tight the games for these two teams have been over the last half decae. Nearly every regular season meeting between the two has been a one goal game. In the first round they took seven games to escape a team that dragged into the playoffs.
Second, and posssibly most important the team needs glue guys and attitude. Former head coach John Tortorella said the team lacked “stiffness”. That isn’t really surprising given that Brandon Dubinsky and Brand Prust were jettisoned during the last off season. Sean Avery was run out of town by Torts before that. Dubinsky’s last season in New York was awful, the worst of his career. There was however no real reason to expect it to be the start of a major decline. Brandon Prust went north of the border, delivered hits, dropped mitts and went on to one of his best statistical seasons. Sean Avery who was one of the most polarizing players of the last decade is no longer playing hockey, but absolutely no one fell asleep in games he was playing and he wanted nothing more than to pull on the blueshirt. Without the three of them the Rangers went from a bounce or two from the Stanley Cup finals to never really in a second round series after escaping the first round minus some skin.
And last, the team needs on ice swagger. When you look at some of the Red Wings dynasty teams, the Blackhawks when they won their Cup, or some of the Islanders dynsasty you see a team that not only expects to win, but knows their opponents know it too. I don’t see a way for the Rangers to get this until they get the first two and get them right.
Coming up the Detroit Red Wings, San Jose Sharks and Ottawa Senators.