With the New York Rangers going to their first Stanley Cup final in 20 years, they have an opportunity to make history. History is always made when you win a Stanley Cup, particularly these days when you never know when you’ll have a chance to win one again.
And two of the most important players for the Rangers now have a chance to achieve hockey immortality. For goalie Henrik Lundqvist and veteran winger Martin St-Louis, this Stanley Cup final against either the Los Angeles Kings or Chicago Blackhawks could very well become career-defining moments.
It’s quite simple, really. If the Rangers can win the Stanley Cup this season and St-Louis and Lundqvist continue to be major contributors, both will have essentially punched their tickets to the Hockey Hall of Fame. Of course, this will be the last thing from their minds when they take to the ice either at the Staples Center or the United Center next Wednesday night, but both will have to turn in inspiring and leading-man performances for the Rangers to have a chance to win their first Stanley Cup since 1994, a notion that became reality when the Rangers shut out the Montreal Canadiens 1-0 in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference final Thursday night.
It has been 10 years since St-Louis won the only Stanley Cup of his career with the Tampa Bay Lightning, a Cup he won with running mate Brad Richards. They are the only two Rangers on the roster with any experience this deep in the playoffs – unless you include resident thug Dan Carcillo, who won’t play in this series unless (a) it goes to Game 7; (b) he wins his appeal for abuse of an official; or (c) Rangers coach Alain Vigneault is crazy enough to put a player that undisciplined in such an important game. (Speaking of those with a lot at stake, Richards would almost certainly cement his status as a Ranger for life with a winning final. After all, would the Rangers actually use one of their amnesty buyouts on him if they won the Cup and he was one of their top scorers?)
St-Louis has been one of the most prolific point producers of his generation and is a cinch to get 1,000 career points. That, and the fact that he has been an MVP, scoring champion and two-time Lady Byng Trophy winner, would probably be enough to get him into the Hall of Fame regardless of whether the Rangers win the Cup this season or not. Of the 67 players who have scored 1,000 career points and are eligible for the Hall of Fame, only 17 of them have not been inducted. Most of those players are modern players, which indicates the 1,000-point benchmark isn’t what it used to be when it comes to establishing Hall of Fame credentials.
For Lundqvist, this is uncharted territory. For all the accolades and accomplishments King Henrik has earned, he has never carried his team this deep in the playoffs. If the Rangers were to win, it would be because he emerged as a serious candidate for the Conn Smythe Trophy. And if that were to happen, Lundqvist’s career resume would be complete and the Hall of Fame would almost certainly become a formality.
Which brings us to the chances of the Rangers actually being able to win the thing. Well, as someone who didn’t believe they were even going to get out of the first round, who declared them dead when they were down 3-1 to the Pittsburgh Penguins and picked them to lose the Eastern Conference final before their opponent had even been determined, your trusty correspondent has been wrong about the Rangers at every turn. (Unlike his colleague, Ronnie Shuker, who picked them to win the Stanley Cup before the start of the season.)
To pick them to lose the final would be precisely what Ranger fans would be hoping and while I don’t believe they’re as good as either the Blackhawks or the Kings, they stand a real chance of ending their 20-year Stanley Cup drought – which would give them and every other Original Six team with the exception of the Toronto Maple Leafs at least two Stanley Cups in post-expansion era (tee-hee).
The most important factor for the Rangers will be how much energy either the Blackhawks or Kings have expended getting out of the Western Conference. The Blackhawks and many of the their Olympic players look tired and the Rangers might be able to capitalize on that. The Kings have gone the distance in the first two rounds and will do so again if the Blackhawks can win in Game 6 Friday night. The Rangers, though, were no slouches themselves when it came to the Olympics with Lundqvist, St-Louis, Rick Nash, Carl Hagelin, Ryan McDonagh, Derek Stepan and Mats Zuccarello having played in Sochi.
Full marks to the Rangers for getting this far, but they did not have to battle through the war of attrition that is the Western Conference. That could be their biggest ally in the final and if Lundqvist and St-Louis can continue to deliver, both the Rangers and their two veterans could be basking in the glow of the Stanley Cup within a couple of weeks.