Just a heads-up. I received a great article on the New York Rangers from Mike Smith. Mike will be contributing on a part-time basis for us. Enjoy…

With all the excitement the Giants have created over the past few weeks, the New York Rangers have flown under our radar, even though they are arguably the best team in the NHL. Now that football season is over, the Rangers deserve our attention.

It has been 18 years since their magical Stanley Cup run in 1994 (exactly one-third their previous Cup drought, but I digress) and for the first time in the post-Gretzky era, the Rangers are legitimate Stanley Cup contenders.

If this is the year that the Rangers make another magical run, it will be four these reasons:

The Rangers Need Henrik to be Henrik

1. HENRIK LUNDQVIST

Any Stanley Cup run for the Rangers begins and ends with the play of goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. Lundqvist is one of the most talented goalies in the sport and when he gets hot, he can carry any team to a title (i.e.Swedenin the 2006 Olympics). It is only a matter of time before King Henrik makes a similar run for the Rangers in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

2. EMERGENCE OF YOUNG TALENT

Saying that the Rangers are a young team is an understatement. The Rangers current roster boasts only four players over the age of 30, while having ten players that are 25 or younger. These young stars are coming into their own and give the Rangers an energy that most teams in the NHL just don’t have. The youthful exuberance of players like Michael Del Zotto, Ryan Callahan, Derek Stepan, and Dan Girardi will prove useful come playoff time, when veteran (read: older) teams are worn down from a long season.

3. EFFECTIVE COACHING

Head coach John Tortorella has a firm hold on this young team. If you watched any of the 24/7 episodes on HBO, you saw that Tortorella is a terrific motivator and the players are buying into his system. Torts has won a Stanley Cup before with the Tampa Bay Lightning, so he knows what it takes to go deep in the playoffs. More importantly, he has the Rangers believing that they can do just that.

4. FREE AGENT PAY OFF

This Rangers team is vastly different from the 1994 team. That roster was chock full of veteran players that had won Stanley Cups before. This Rangers team is mainly homegrown with few free agents. However, their most recent big-name acquisitions have the potential to pay very large dividends. All-Star MVP Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards, like Henrik Lundqvist have the ability to carry a team deep into the playoffs. Gaborik is the team’s leading goal and point scorer, while Richards boasts seven game-winning goals this season and, more importantly, has a Conn Smythe Trophy on his resume. If these two superstars can bring their “A” games come playoff time, the Rangers are going to be very successful.

There is a lot of hockey left to be played this season, but the Rangers continue to play like a team on a mission. With 30 games left in the regular season the Rangers hold a five-point lead in the Eastern Conference. They are in position for the number-one seed and home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs.

So, can the Rangers make a Stanley Cup run?

Absolutely.

The key pieces are in place. But, as we saw with the Giants, winning a championship is never easy. You need talent on your roster, but you also need the ball (or puck) to bounce your way. Only time will tell if the Rangers can hoist the Cup in June, but I suggest you keep an eye on this team because it’s going to be an exciting Spring.