We're a day away from Game One of the Stanley Cup Final. A day away from all those familiar emotions that come with the territory and the stress that follows. Around two weeks away from either being the happiest fanbase on the planet, or the saddest.
It took a lot of different things to get the New York Rangers to this point. Most of the credit has already gone to Henrik Lundqvist (which it should); but enough people also realize how important the Rangers' bottom six has been this year.
There was a stat going around that I want to bring up here, and it came from our own staff member Brandon:
Rangers 4th liners played a combined 36:55 in game 7 vs. PIT. Kings and Hawks 4th liners have played a combined 36:03 [in Game 7].
The Rangers fourth line played a combined total of 34:34 in Game 6 against the Montreal Canadiens as well, with both Dominic Moore and Brian Boyle seeing over 13 minutes of ice time each. Derek Dorsett was the straggler with over seven minutes.
One of the biggest differences between Alain Vigneault's system and the one used by John Tortorella is the way he spreads out his ice time. Tortorella was always known for running with his top guys, often giving them far more than 20 minutes a night while leaving other players with single-digit totals. It ended up being a recipe for disaster, with the top-line players who were relied on so heavily wearing out as the playoffs continued.
This year, that problem doesn't exist. So far this year, here are the bottom five players in terms of ice time:
All stats below are with a minimum of 10 games played.
Dorsett - 9:08
Moore - 12:33
Boyle - 12:50
Kevin Klein - 13:04
John Moore - 14:05
In 2011-2012 the list looked like this:
Stu Bickel - 5:09
Mike Rupp - 6:13
John Mitchell - 7:04
Brandon Purst - 12:46
Chris Kreider - 13:09
Here are the top five ice-time leaders for the Rangers this year:
Ryan McDonagh - 25:11
Dan Girardi - 22:54
Marc Staal - 20:58
Anton Stralman - 20:12
Martin St. Louis - 18:59
And the top five ice-time leaders in 2011-2012:
Girardi - 26:51
McDonagh - 26:49
Staal - 25:17
Ryan Callahan - 23:32
Brad Richards - 22:11
Noticing something? This year not one forward has averaged more than 20 minutes a game. In 2011-2012 two forwards did, and Marian Gaborik came in at 19:55, so we can lump him in there, too. And when you have four of your 12 forwards playing less than 13 minutes a night it becomes a problem
This year the Rangers have been able to rely on their bottom six to play regular minutes. More importantly, the Rangers fourth line has been crucial in getting the job done during the crunch time minutes. It might not seem like a lot from the outside, but having that crutch to lean on has been invaluable to allowing the more skilled players to get the job done on the other end of the ice.
The Rangers have gotten this far relying on their strengths. This particular strength -- the team's depth -- is going to be called on again to get the job done. That's not exactly a bad thing.
They've done a great job so far.