Finally. Three-hundred and twenty-one days after another exhilarating post-season run came to a disappointing end in Game 7 against Tampa Bay … it’s playoff time!
This 2015-16 Rangers team has been waiting for the post-season ever since the final horn sounded at The Garden last May 29.
I’m not saying the Blueshirts “coasted” through the regular season. Not at all. Finishing with 101 points over an 82-game schedule is not an easy task. The Rangers reached triple digits in the points column for just the ninth time in franchise history. Qualifying for the Stanley Cup Playoffs is not a cakewalk either. Ask the players and coaches from the 14 franchises who will be watching on television beginning tonight.
There are many positives to take out of the regular season. The goaltending of Henrik Lundqvist early (12-3-2 over his first 17 decisions) and Antti Raanta late (7-2-0 over his last 9 decisions). The remarkable return of Mats Zuccarello, who led the team in scoring. Five 20-plus goal-scorers for the first time in five seasons. Career-highs in goals for Zuccarello (26), Derick Brassard (27), Derek Stepan (22), J.T. Miller (22), Chris Kreider (21), Oscar Lindberg (13) and Jesper Fast (10). An outstanding first full season in a Rangers uniform from Keith Yandle. The continued development of youngsters such as Miller, Fast, Lindberg, Kevin Hayes, Dylan McIlrath and Brady Skjei.
With apologies to Bill Belichick, now it’s “On to Pittsburgh.” The team the Rangers have eliminated each of the last two springs. The franchise that has added familiar faces in Mike Sullivan and Carl Hagelin.
The Rangers are ready. A core group that has played more playoff games (76) than any other NHL franchise over the last four seasons. Twelve rounds of playoff hockey since 2012. A goaltender who is as driven as any athlete in professional sports to win a championship.
It’s playoff time. Drop the puck.