With the first half of the season behind the New York Rangers, they are off to a phenomenal start, currently sitting tied for second place in the NHL with 64 points. With four winning streaks of five games or more for the first time in franchise history through the first 40 games of the season, the Rangers are winners at home and on the road.
With such an impressive start, it begs the question: are the Rangers good enough to win the Stanley Cup this year?
In short, my answer, Yes.
The Rangers are playing their best hockey in years, have the depth and skill to win it all and to bring a championship to the franchise for the first time since 1994.
It's a long way to go until we even reach the playoffs, but let's take a look at why the Rangers are true Cup contenders.
For the first time in a long time, the Rangers have a balanced offensive lineup that continues to find surprising ways to contribute. From the top offensive lines, we have Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards who've combined for 40 goals so far this season. Between the two of them, that's nearly a goal a game.
But the Rangers have many more sources of goal scorers. Look no further than Captain Ryan Callahan, Derek Stepan, and rookie Carl Hagelin.
With Brandon Dubinsky and even Mike Rupp heating up offensively, the Rangers are only getting started.
Defense and goaltending are critical to success in a deep playoff run, but nothing wins games more than goal scorers. This season, the Rangers have plenty of offensive threats and barring any injuries, should be well prepared to light up the lamp in the postseason.
Now if the Rangers could just find a way to convert more power plays to goals, they'd be dangerous.
When it was revealed in summer training camp that alternate captain Marc Staal was suffering from post-concussion symptoms, it was a huge cause for concern for the Rangers defensively.
Who would take the place of Staal? How long would he be out for?
But then something great happened. The emergence of Dan Girardi, Michael Del Zotto, Ryan McDonagh, and Michael Sauer brought fantastic results.
However, the Rangers had yet another setback with the concussion of Sauer, who still remains out of the lineup.
Enter newcomer Anton Stralman and rookie Stu Bickel, and the Rangers have found a way to rebound defensively. With the return of Staal earlier this month, the Rangers should have a huge confidence boost on the defensive front.
The Rangers have been lights out defensively, currently ranking third in the league with a 87.3 penalty kill percentage. To be this effective with multiple injuries on the blue line is nothing short of impressive.
What can be said about Henrik Lundqvist that hasn't already been established? Well, Lundqvist is having one of the best seasons of his young career, currently third in the league with a save percentage of .936 and fourth in the league with 1.93 goals-against average.
Tack on his four shutouts, and it's easy to see why the Rangers are able to remain a dominating threat in the NHL.
But what really makes this season different than any other is that for the first time of Lundqvist's career, he has a capable, dependable backup in the form of Martin Biron. Biron showed great promise last season before suffering a broken collarbone in a freak practice accident. It was only natural to question how well he would recover.
Biron is doing an outstanding job silencing any critics this season, boasting a 9-2-0 record with a .927 save percentage and 1.87 goals-against average. He has also notched two shutout victories.
With the stellar play of Biron, the Rangers can finally give their backup an approximate 20-25 game load, and keep Lundqvist healthy. Lundqvist has commented that he has never felt stronger half-way into the season, and it's obvious he has Biron to thank.
This can only spell great victories for the Rangers in the postseason—when it matters the most.
True Cup Contenders
Post-lockout, we've never seen the Rangers do this well. We've never seen the Rangers have such goal-tending depth, and we've never seen the Rangers be able to string together back-to-back victories like they have this season.
The Rangers are proving all across the NHL that they are for real, and they are in control. They have fully adapted to John Tortorella's gritty identity, and it has paid dividends all throughout the season.
Repeatedly, the Rangers have faced the league's top performers and found a way to win big.
They blanked the Canucks 4-0 in Vancouver. They silenced Joe Thornton of the San Jose Sharks 5-2 at home. The Rangers have repeatedly shut down the Flyers, including a big win at the 2012 Winter Classic.
And the Rangers just had an impressive 3-2 overtime victory against the defending Stanley Cup Champions, the Boston Bruins.
The only thing stopping the Rangers from winning it all is themselves, any breakdown in health or confidence will be the deathblow of the season. But all signs continue to point to glory for the "Broadway Blueshirts".
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