Last season the New York Rangers inability to get past the New Jersey Devils and into the Stanley Cup Finals was attributed to two main points. The first was the Rangers lack of scoring (both at even strength and on the power play) and the second was the Devils third and fourth lines were far superior to the Rangers third and fourth lines. And while star power holds a lot of weight in the NHL, quality depth is almost just as important.
That was on display in the Rangers seven-game victory over the Washington Capitals in the first round of the NHL Playoffs.
If I would have told you before the playoffs started that the Rangers would be playing the Capitals, and Rick Nash, Ryan Callahan, Brad Richards and Ryane Clowe would combine for just two goals and five assists you probably would have thought the Capitals would have run the Rangers out of the series. The reality? The Rangers depth outplayed the Capitals.
Arron Asham had two goals, Taylor Pyatt had a goal and two assists, Brian Boyle had two goals and an assist and Derek Dorsett had an assist. Then there were guys like Derick Brassard (who was considered depth when the series began but is now primary scoring) with two goals and seven assists, Mats Zuccarello with a goal and four assists, Carl Hagelin with two goals and two assists and even Dan Girardi and Michael Del Zotto scoring a goal and an assist each.
Now compare that to the Capitals leading scorers being Joel Ward, Mike Green and Mathieu Perreault with four points each. Nicklas Backstrom with a goal and two assists, Mike Ribeiro with a goal and an assist and, of course, Alex Ovechkin with just a goal and an assist. Obviously Ryan McDonagh, Henrik Lundqvist and Girardi deserve a ton of credit for shutting down the Capitals' top line, but the Capitals did the same to the Rangers. The difference? The Rangers depth showed up. The Capitals depth did not.
Of course, you can't just look at the goals and assists to see who's been playing well, but if you've watched the games it's quite clear the Rangers depth is showing it's true colors. When the Rangers traded for Nash we talked at length about what it did to the team's precious (and seemingly thin) depth. But after the Marian Gaborik trade things are different.
The Rangers got three quality players who John Tortorella can trust. Dorsett and Moore were playing big, important minutes in Game 7. That doesn't happen with Tortorella unless he trusts you. It doesn't matter who you are, what you're paid (ask Richards) or what stock the organization has in you (as Chris Kreider), you're not playing if he doesn't trust you.
With Clowe out, sure, Tortorella may have had to lean on a player or two he wasn't expecting to. But Dorsett and Moore simply got the job done for the Rangers in Round 1. Especially Moore who stepped up when Marc Staal was finished for the rest of the first round.
And, of course, Brassard, who we've also talked about at length so no need to go into him again here. He was the Rangers best player not named Henrik Lundqvist in the first round. Although you could talk me into putting McDonagh and Girardi above him, too. Maybe.
The point is the Rangers top guns didn't get the job done. In Clowe's case - and yes, I'm putting him in primary scoring territory because the Rangers brought him in with the intent that he would be a big part of the playoffs - it's due to injuries. Either way, the Rangers have the extra wheels to get them going.
That's a lot different than last year's playoff run.
Hopefully this year's result will be different, too.