The New York Rangers made their first deep playoff run since losing to the Los Angeles Kings in the 2014 Stanley Cup Final. They certainly have a sour taste in their mouth after bowing out to two-time defending Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning. However, they have a lot to be proud of and even more to build on heading into the 2022-23 season. Let’s take a look at three key takeaways from their playoff experience and what it means moving forward.
Learning From Defeat
Perhaps the biggest catalyst for a team to become or grow into a Stanley Cup Champion is to lose. In the NHL playoffs, losing teaches you how to win. It can pay dividends if you pay attention and make the necessary strides moving forward. Take the Edmonton Oilers, for example. They were swept in the 1983 Stanley Cup Final by the New York Islanders. The Oilers took their medicine, learned their lesson, and beat the Islanders 4-1 in the 1984 Cup Final. The Islanders had won four straight Cups before the Oilers finally took them down. After that, the Oilers won the next four out of five Stanley Cups.
The Detroit Red Wings also learned how to win from taking their playoff lumps. The Red Wings had several disappointing playoff runs despite having one of the most talented teams in the league for several years. The Red Wings and their high-powered offense reached the 1995 Stanley Cup Final only to be swept by the suffocating defense of the New Jersey Devils. However, team captain Steve Yzerman and his supporting cast realized they needed to make changes in their style as individuals and as a team. They did, and by the end of the 1997 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Red Wings hoisted the Cup while repeating the following year.
That’s what the Rangers need to do. Having reached the Eastern Conference Final ahead of pretty much everyone in the hockey world’s schedule, there’s no looking back. They have the talent, depth and a Vezina Trophy (best goaltender) winner and Hart Trophy (league MVP) finalist manning their crease. They’ve got a balanced attack front to back and added some grit in the past 12 months to handle playoff-style hockey.
They also have a head coach, Gerard Gallant, who in his first season was named a finalist for the Jack Adams Award as the league’s best coach. On top of that, general manager (GM) Chris Drury was named a finalist for the Jim Gregory Award, which goes to the NHL’s GM of the Year and will be announced at the 2022 NHL Entry Draft. Drury was also in his first season in that role. With all that said, they gained valuable experience during the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
They had two dramatic series comebacks, which showed exactly what they’re made of. In Round 1, they were down three games to one to Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins and pulled it out in Game 7. Then, they found themselves down three games to two against a team many considered a Stanley Cup favorite, the Carolina Hurricanes. The Blueshirts were able to win Game 6 at Madison Square Garden (MSG) and beat the Hurricanes in their barn 6-2 in Game 7.
In the Eastern Conference Final, they faced the Lightning, and with home-ice advantage, were feeling confident about their chances to reach the Cup Final for the first time since the 2013-14 season, where they lost to the Kings. However, the Blueshirts were outmatched by the defending champs and lost in six games after winning the first two games of the series.
The Rangers have nothing to be ashamed of and went above and beyond preseason expectations. However, they did find out about what it takes to go deep into the playoffs and what they need to overcome to win. Now they need to take all of that and channel it when the 2022-23 season begins and when they embark on another deep playoff run.
Lafreniere, Chytil, Kakko
The Kid Line, which is made up of Alexis Lafreniere, Filip Chytil and Kaapo Kakko, learned how to navigate playoff hockey and made excellent strides during the Rangers’ playoff run. They were able to string together dominant shifts over long stretches of games on a consistent basis. On some nights, they were the best line on the ice, and you could make a strong argument that they were the Rangers’ best line in 5-on-5 play.
The line came together near the end of the regular season, and although they didn’t light up the score sheet, they developed into a third-line threat throughout the playoffs. They combined for a total of 23 points, which was pretty much done all at regular strength. It’s a great sign moving forward for the Rangers, though they may not stay together for the 2022-23 season. But it’s always something Gallant can feel comfortable going back to when needed.
Shesterkin Proved His Playoff Worth
Shesterkin learned to break through the struggle. He wavered early on and was pulled from two games in the first round during the 2022 NHL Playoffs. However, he got back on track and solidified his position as the Rangers’ goalie of the future, backstopping them to the Eastern Conference Final.
He was near the top of the chart for goalies with a .929 save percentage (SV%) and 2.59 goals-against average (GAA). He made timely saves that kept the Rangers alive in each series and showed that he’s got what it takes to be a big-time playoff netminder down the road.
Drury, Gallant, Shesterkin; Trio for the Future
A Jim Gregory Award finalist, Jack Adams finalist, Vezina winner and Hart finalist is a strong trio to lead the Rangers into the future. With a backbone like that among other top players, the team is poised for multiple Stanley Cup runs. We’ll see what the future holds for this talented roster.
Scott Blair is an author and journalist from Los Angeles, CA, by way of Detroit, MI. Uniquely diverse experiences have shaped Scott’s life in both of those places he calls home. He is now traveling the world, learning and growing as a human and a writer. He was a professional hockey player and then turned to the arts, becoming an actor for about 15 years. His passions turned to poetry, prose, politics, and journalism when he got tired of the Hollywood machine and what it represents. Scott is available for interviews and welcomes questions and topic ideas.