By Steve Silverman
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Hope never dies with the New York Rangers.
No matter how disappointing the regular season has been or how limited they are when it comes to putting the puck in the net, there’s always hope.
Surviving and advancing in the postseason may seem like a desperate wish, but it’s also realistic. That’s primarily because of Henrik Lundqvist.
I’m not taking anything away from the Kings’ Jonathan Quick — last year’s Conn Smythe Trophy winner — or the Senators’ Craig Anderson, the best statistical goalie in the league this year. They are both excellent goaltenders.
But when you have to pick the best goalie to give your team a chance to win, you have to come away with Lundqvist.
He is to this generation what Patrick Roy was to the last and what Ken Dryden was before that.
Give him just enough support and the King will come out on top.
That’s why games like the Rangers’ 4-3 triumph over the Washington Capitals in Game 3 can be extrapolated out much further. The Rangers scored four goals in one game. Two of them came in the third period when the game was on the line.
They got those goals when Arron Asham charged the net and was able to fire the puck unimpeded as he stared down Braden Holtby. Then blue-collar hero Derek Stepan went to the net hard and got his stick on Rick Nash’s pass to deflect it by the Washington goalie.
Neither goal took tremendous skill; both required grit and guts.
So there’s the formula: Lundqvist goaltending plus offensive will and fortitude. Throw in some hard hitting and shot blocking and you have a way to win postseason games.
This isn’t just how to win one game in a playoff series, but rather a formula for winning a series and getting back deep into the playoffs.
The Rangers are not going to look ahead and try to figure out what’s going on beyond the fourth game of the series.
But we have the ability to look down the road. The Rangers are a hard-edged team. Sometimes they are done in by their coach’s petulance and lack of vision, but they do reflect John Tortorella’s personality.
They hit hard. They go after the puck. They may not always make the play, but they do press the attack. If they can win 50 percent of the battles it looks like the Rangers have a significant edge because they have the best goaltender in the game.
It’s not always about having the best statistical year or recording the most shutouts. It’s about making the big save at the key moment.
There are goaltenders who are close to Lundqvist, but nobody is better.
That’s a major bonus for anyone who puts on a Rangers uniform. You know from the start that if you can hold your opposite number to a draw, you are going to come out ahead most nights.
And if you actually win most of the battles, there’s no way you are going to get beaten.
So there’s no reason to look back at past failures that took place in last year’s postseason or in this year’s regular season.
Just realize that all players have to join the battle and make sacrifices. In the Rangers’ system, that means going into the dirty areas and taking the hits to make plays.
Most of the players understand that. Ryan Callahan, Ryan McDonagh and Stepan exemplify the Rangers’ mentality that Tortorella wants all his players to have.
Nash, probably the most talented player on the team, has not bought all the way in. He does not go to the dirty areas. He does not like to hit and he certainly wants to avoid punishment.
Analyst Mike Milbury vilified him on the NBC Sports Network during the Game 3 broadcast. It’s not quite as bad as Milbury made it out to be, but Nash stands out like a sore thumb compared to the other Rangers.
He simply doesn’t make the sacrifices that his other teammates do. That has to change immediately. If Nash suddenly develops the same attitude that Callahan & Co. bring to the ice nightly, the Rangers have a legitimate chance — not just in Game 4, but for the remainder of the postseason.
They have Lundqvist. He is the best at his position in the world and he just needs a little bit of support.
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