But what will they be like when they get there?
They played a back-and-forth series against the Flyers in the first round and came out on top in seven games. It's no secret that these teams dislike each other and that series was physical and chippy. The Rangers didn't play all that well in the series, particularly on the power play, where they started 3 for 12 in the first two games, but went 0-17 in the next five. The penalty kill was also suspect, as they killed about 72% of the Flyers power plays. The Rangers also outshot the Flyers 221-179. The series was much more competitive than it should have been. Fortunately, the Flyers weren't as good as the Rangers and the Rangers moved on.
The next round wasn't going to get any easier, having to play the Pittsburgh Penguins who finished 13 points ahead of the Rangers in the standings. The Penguins boast one of the best offenses in the NHL, as well as hockey's Golden Child and most hated player, Sidney Crosby. Oh yeah, these two teams may also have some disdain for one another.
The series started out well enough. A 3-2 OT win in Pittsburgh seemed like a good omen. But then they had to play games 2, 3 and 4. Games 2 and 3 could arguably be the two worst games they had played all season. Down 3-1, the power play point-less streak continued. They had gone 0-15 through the first four games of the series and 0-32 over the previous nine games. The team was dejected and clearly fatigued. Any hope from winning the series against a team they've never beaten in the playoffs was gone.
Then tragedy occurred. Martin St. Louis lost his mother to a heart attack. Not having experienced this type of loss before, it's difficult for me to imagine what he was going through. I do know that he had all the support in the world and he found comfort in hockey. St. Louis returned for Game 5 and the team rallied around him. It wasn't because of his loss, though. This wasn't a "Win one for MSL's mom" moment. This was a "Look at the resilience of him to be back here" moment. St. Louis was struggling emotionally at the moment but understood how important this point in the season was. Down 3-1, the Rangers rallied around the fact that St. Louis was there and they needed to show him that they can be as resilient as him.
With their adrenaline rushing, the Rangers played what I think is their best game of the postseason. They rolled into Pittsburgh and beat them 5-1. They scored two power play goals and Lundqvist kept 31 of 32 shots out of the net and didn't allow rebounds to find the sticks of the Penguins prolific offense. There was now a reason to believe. The Rangers came home for Game 6 and once again Lundqvist was unbeatable and St. Louis scored the first goal of the game. The Rangers then used their road game skills and took Game 7 in Pittsburgh on the strength of The King. The Rangers went 3-5 on the power play in Games 5 and 7, but 0-6 in Game 6. The penalty killing, however, was amazing all series as they killed 19 of 20 opportunities for the Penguins. In a reversal of the first series, the Penguins outshot the Rangers 218-183.
Round 3. The Rangers find themselves with a 3 games to 1 lead over the clowns from Montreal. This series has been a mess for the NHL regarding player safety. After Chris Kreider crashed into Corey Price, ending Price's season, the Canadiens proceeded to injure Derick Brassard, Derek Stepan and most recently J.T. Miller. All three were on purpose, all three were illegal, all three went unpunished on the ice. Brandon Prust was suspended a measly two games for his hit on Stepan, who broke his jaw. On the ice, the non-calls benefitting the Canadiens are really frustrating the Rangers. And the narrative out of Montreal is to continue to bitch and moan when they're the ones that have caused all the commotion in this series. Meanwhile, Alain Vigneault has instructed his players to not worry about it. Prove yourself on the ice. They have have taken that message to heart and have largely outplayed Montreal through the first four games.
So what happens if and when the Rangers make the Stanley Cup Finals? Will the Rangers have exhausted all of their emotional energy? Or will the hunger and drive continue to be there? The Kings and Blackhawks don't invoke the same sort of hatred that the Flyers, Penguins or Canadiens do and I don't believe that the type of emotion you get from playing your rivals can be duplicated against a team you don't necessarily have anything against. The Rangers will need to rely on better puck movement in the neutral zone and work on not giving away the puck so much. The power play will need to be much better than it is been...and that is not asking a lot. It also helps that we have Hank.