The word most closely associated with the Rangers prior to the 2011-12 season was potential. Now, that word is power.
The Rangers took a major step forward last season by compiling an Eastern Conference-best 51-24-7 mark before being eliminated by rival New Jersey in six games of the Eastern Conference final.
It is not quite Cup or bust on Broadway, but there is no doubt the Rangers have their sights set on winning the franchise’s fifth Cup.
Henrik Lundqvist and Martin Biron are among the league’s premier goaltending tandems. Lundqvist’s remarkable 2011-12 campaign (39-18-5, 1.97 GAA, .930 save percentage) earned him the Vezina Trophy. Head coach John Tortorella views Biron as a key to the Rangers’ success. Tortorella sees Biron’s role as to spell Lundqvist — organizational decision-makers had settled on a plan in which the Lundqvist plays 60 to 65 games in a normal, 82-game season — when necessary.
It’s among the best units in the NHL. The top pairing of future Norris Trophy-winner Ryan McDonagh and all-star Dan Girardi is set. The duo earned John Tortorella’s trust after he put them together early last season. The Marc Staal-Michael Del Zotto second unit provides strong own-zone play with the ability to contribute offensively. The third pair of Anton Stralman and Stu Bickel are serviceable. Bickel provides Tortorella with additional muscle when necessary.
The summer acquisition of Rick Nash should give the Rangers as good a collection of top-6 forwards as any in the NHL. The possibility exists that Nash-Brad Richards-Marian Gaborik would make up the top line. Richards is among the preeminent setup centers in the league. Nash has scored 30 or more goals in seven of his nine NHL seasons. Gaborik has scored at least 40 goals in two of his three seasons with the Rangers. Even though Chris Kreider struggled with AHL Connecticut (5-7-12, -6 in 33 games), he set NHL playoff records last year for goals (five) and points (seven) scored before playing in a regular season game. Ryan Callahan is the heart, soul and conscience of a blue-collar team.
» Coaching and front office
This just in: Tortorella is driven, demanding and doesn’t tolerate fools. He’s also pretty good at his chosen profession. He has compiled a 384-322-37-63 mark in 806 regular season games with the Lightning and the Rangers, to augment a Stanley Cup championship and Jack Adams Award. General manager Glen Sather’s rebuilding project has begun to pay off with tangible results. Director of Player Personnel Gordie Clark has done a yeoman’s work scouting and drafting.
Tortorella routinely espoused the importance of winning the Atlantic Division toward the end of the 2011-12 regular season. His rationale was that the tangible rewards (home-ice advantage and the confidence gained from winning the division) would benefit the franchise in both the short and long term. With the abbreviated nature of the 2013 season, it will be more important to qualify for the playoffs. The Rangers are good enough to win the Cup, and unless things go drastically wrong, there should be a parade down the Canyon of Heroes in June.
Follow NHL writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.