The New York Rangers fell to the Ottawa Senators last night, ending their season in disappointing fashion. Let’s take a look at why the 2017 season did not result in a championship for the Rangers.
When the playoffs started, few picked the New York Rangers to advance past the Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the playoffs. That fact has been often forgotten when considering New York’s exit to the Ottawa Senators in the second round.
See, the Rangers boasted a superior roster to the Senators. Everything pointed to the Rangers winning the series and moving on to play either the Pittsburgh Penguins or Washington Capitals in the Eastern Conference Finals.
However, New York could not complete the task at hand. They blew multiple third period leads, fell behind early in Game Six, and suddenly the season was over. While everyone is rightfully disappointed about the end result, the fact of the matter is the Rangers were never about to win the Stanley Cup.
Let’s look into why.
Alain Vigneault Fails to Adapt
This first point was originally going to be that the Rangers did not possess the tools to win the Stanley Cup Final. While New York boasted an elite group of forwards to go along with their all-world goaltender this season, their defense was one of the worst in the entire National Hockey League since day one.
However, in analyzing that weakness, I arrived at a different conclusion than expected. The Rangers could have won the Stanley Cup despite owning only three talented defensemen. Just look at the Chicago Blackhawks in 2015.
Joel Quenneville famously played the likes of Kyle Cumiskey and the corpse of Kimmo Timonen few minutes (and heavily sheltered minutes) essentially playing with four defensemen for the post-season. He shortened his bench when needed, and rode his best players throughout the post-season.
The result? A Stanley Cup championship. Thus, the combination of Jeff Gorton failing to supply Alain Vigneault with enough options on defense, and Alain Vigneault failing to be willing to roll with only his talented defensemen resulted in a post-season exit.
While this is more of an intangible than something proven, this Rangers team was missing something all year long. Perhaps it stemmed from the awful defense, but New York would regularly get man-handled in the possession game despite their talented crop of forwards.
The Rangers blew late leads regularly, and when it mattered most it was anyone’s guess if they would come out on top or not. That’s no recipe for success in the regular season, better yet the post-season.
While in previous years it felt like the Rangers were the team that could come back from any deficit, this year it felt like any team could come back from any deficit against New York. No lead was safe. All year it felt like the Rangers were missing the “it” factor. In the end, they failed to win it all.
A Few Pieces Away
We will have an article on this soon (stay tuned!) but the Rangers seemed to be a piece away. Look back to when the Rangers acquired Keith Yandle from the Coyotes back in 2015. Glen Sather believed that was “the move” that would win the Rangers the Stanley Cup.
This year, the Rangers had multiple defensive positions to fill at the Trade Deadline. The acquisition of Brendan Smith was brilliant, but Brendan Smith doesn’t win you a championship.
Perhaps if New York brought on Kevin Shattenkirk in addition to Smith they would be playing this weekend. We will never know, but we do know that the Rangers were short a few roster pieces from being an elite team. Their weaknesses were apparent and able to exploit.
Finally, on the smaller scale, New York fell to the Ottawa Senators because they couldn’t hold leads. Alain Vigneault did not put the best players on the ice in crunch time, and the players on the ice did not perform.
The Senators came back when it mattered most, and that proved to be the difference. While New York was never meant to win the Stanley Cup anyway, who knows what would have happened if they defeated the Senators.
Falling to the Senators was the nail in the coffin, and the blown leads caused the series loss.