Despite the Rangers incredibly successful regular season, they have yet to answer the above question. Not because they don't want to, but because it's not the right stage to do so.
Today the stage is finally set, and you can already feel the heat from the spotlights as they find their way to the Rangers' feet. Make no mistake, the Rangers aren't just a participating team in the dance, they're the main attraction. Not only did they clinch the Presidents' Trophy, they're also last year's runner ups in a tournament where last year's champions are not participating.
There are a lot of story lines that are cast in the Rangers' shadow this year. Revenge, taking the final step after years of success, Henrik Lundqvist finally getting his ring, the Rangers changed mentality to trust growth from within; the list goes on and on. But the most important motive might just be finishing the job they didn't last year. The 4-1 final series result might look like a blowout, but it was the closest five-game series in history -- with three games going to overtime and two of those going to double overtime.
The Rangers aren't just here to make a statement and go as far as they can and be happy about it. The Rangers need to win the Stanley Cup; anything less will be a failure.
Good isn't good enough anymore.
As much as last year's run was a pleasant surprise, the Rangers have teetered on the edge of greatness for a while. In 2012 the Rangers came two wins away from a Stanley Cup Final berth. The year after that (John Tortorella's last) the Rangers made it into the second round of the playoffs before a lack of coaching adjustments killed them in a five-game obliteration by the Boston Bruins. Last year Alain Vigneault was brought in because management did not believe Tortorella was the right guy to bring the Rangers over the final crest and Vigneault rewarded Glen Sather with the team's first Stanley Cup Final berth since 1994.
That's not a track record to scoff at.
But success always brings luggage in the form of expectation. And this year's team has a lot of expectation heaped on them. I refuse to believe the narrative being passed along by some in the media (and fans to be fair) that the Rangers have more pressure because they are the top dog in the NHL than if they squeaked into the playoffs as an 8th seed.
The truth of the matter is expectations were set the minute Alec Martinez scored the game winning goal last June. Success is defined as a name being engraved on the Stanley Cup; failure is any other result. There is no in between. For the first time in my life, the boundaries of success are restricted to winning the Stanley Cup. No more "let's just get out of the first round" or "let's see how deep they can go." Those days are over.
And let's be honest here for a second: that's a pretty scary reality. As much as the NHL playoffs truly do allow the best of the best to advance (every single round is a seven-game series) there are still unexpected bumps in the road that happen all the time. Presidents' Trophy winning teams have won the Stanley Cup 28.5% of the time (since the trophy's inception); which is far from a "curse" but also not exactly overwhelming odds.
Basically, this isn't going to be easy. Good teams go home every year. Great teams go home every year, too. In a league with 30 teams only one team gets to go home a winner. The New York Rangers were a great team last year. They didn't win the Stanley Cup.
Good isn't good enough. Hell, great might not be good enough either.
So while you should absolutely enjoy where the Rangers finished in the regular season (while keeping in mind it means nothing in the grand scheme of things) remember that the playoffs are a clean slate. There are no colors on the canvas; at least not yet. The Rangers will have their own opportunity to paint the picture they want the world to see, but so will 15 other teams. It's what makes the playoffs so much fun. It's also what makes them so friggin' terrifying.
The mentality this year has changed a lot. This is going to be the first time in a long time the Rangers have been the team to beat in the playoffs rather than the team trying to make some noise. And instead of soaking up that us against the world mentality as the underdog, the Rangers need to utilize that ideology as the favorites. That's both exciting and scary.
Going all the way will not be easy. It also will not be any harder than if the Rangers found themselves squeaking into the playoffs in the final game of the regular season.
The line in the sand that distinguishes a successful season from a failure has been set. It's actually been set since this past summer. The point is simple no matter how you slice it:
Good just isn't good enough anymore.