Lack of scoring. Not enough depth. Too tired.
Those are three of the reasons why the New York Rangers were unable to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1994. After winning the Atlantic Division and finishing as the top seed in the Eastern Conference, The Rangers had to battle through two seven-game series to reach the Eastern Conference Finals before losing to the New Jersey Devils in a six game series where the Rangers were outplayed for most of the time.
But despite not reaching the ultimate goal of winning a Stanley Cup, the Rangers’ loss was a necessary step in building a championship-caliber team. As history shows, all championship teams (with the exception of the Montreal Canadiens dynasties) have gone through the “mandatory suffering rule”, which in essence means that before any team can be ready to win, they have to experience losing in the playoffs first.
The mandatory suffering rule holds true for the last three Stanley Cup Champions. Before winning the Stanley Cup in 2011, the Bruins suffered heartbreaking losses in the previous three seasons, which included losing a 3-0 series lead and a 3-0 lead in Game 7 to the Philadelphia Flyers in 2010. The Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup win in 2010 was preceded by a long postseason run in 2009 that ended in the Western Conference Finals against the Detroit Red Wings. And before Sidney Crosby and the Penguins won the Stanley Cup in 2009 against the Red Wings, they had lost to Detroit in the Finals the season before.
The 2012 playoff run for the Rangers was invaluable to many players because although players such as Henrik Lundqvist, Brad Richards, and Ryan Callahan have been to the playoffs on multiple occasions, many players on the Rangers were getting their first taste of the playoffs. This held true the most for Chris Kreider, who made his NHL debut in the playoffs and contributed to the Rangers’ success. Also, although players like Lundqvist and Callahan had made the playoffs before, 2012 was the first time that those players made it beyond the 2nd round, and twenty playoff games (plus two Game 7 victories) can go a long way to help a club down the road.
Around the time of the trade deadline, I talked about how the Rangers organization should let the roster that was intact for the majority of the season have a chance at winning the Cup without making any changes. One reason was because although the Rangers weren’t the most talented team in the Eastern Conference, they were finding ways to win night after night throughout the regular season. Looking back, another reason why it was beneficial for the Rangers to make a Cup run without making any changes was because they now have a chance to evaluate what went wrong and what needs to be done to fix it.
Based on this year’s run, the Rangers roster was good enough to get to the 3rd round of the playoffs. Now, as the calendar turns to June, and then ultimately July, the Rangers will look to make the tweaks to their roster to elevate from a team that was good enough to have regular season success and knock on the door of the Stanley Cup Finals, to a team that will be playing in June of 2013.
And they will do it while carrying the lessons learned in the 2011-12 season with them.