Defense wins championships.
So does depth.
And the Rangers showed both winning their first round series against the Penguins, winning Game 5, by a score of 2-1 on Carl Hagelin’s goal 10:52 into the first overtime.
“It’s a huge relief, first and foremost,” said Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh. “Obviously, you’re excited that you have an opportunity to advance into the second round. It’s obviously because of our hard work and execution and just the good focus and preparation we’ve had here in the series.”
Unlike the wide open regular season, where the Rangers played coach Alain Vigneault’s system, in the playoffs it’s different and they Rangers knew it. Over the five games, the Blueshirts fought defensive battles and used their scoring opportunities from their defensive opportunities.
“I knew halfway through the game, there were not going to be many scoring chances,” said goalie Henrik Lundqvist. “as a goalie, it’s important to take care of your own business, because one mistake and it’s over.”
Four games by the score of 2-1. The last two won in overtime by members of the third line. On Wednesday it was rookie Kevin Hayes and then tonight Hagelin shined. If the Rangers are going to win the Stanley Cup this year they will need scoring from the third line and even the fourth. With opponents best defensemen on the ice for the top six forward, the heroes do come from back lines.
You can’t go anywhere in this league you don’t have depth,” Vigneault said. You are going to get some players banged up now and then. You are going to need some guys step in and play important minutes and find ways to contribute. That’s the way the NGL is. These playoffs are a battle of survival. “
And that’s where the Rangers excelled this season. Losing some key components from last year, the replacements stepped up. J.T. Miller moved up to the first line. Hayes has become a reliable center and Jesper Fast filled in nicely on the third line after Mats Zuccarello left the game after getting hit in the face by a McDonagh shot.
“I sound like a broken record,” center Derek Stepan said, “but depth is so important and that doesn’t change moving forward.”
In 2012 and last season, the Rangers had a tough time getting out of the first few rounds. In both years, the first and second rounds went seven games, which may have cost them later on in the playoffs. By closing this in five, they will be able to rest up for the either the Capitals or Islanders, who are still battling out their first round series.
“Anytime you can close out a series and heal some bumps and bruises – which we certainly have a few – it’s a good thing,” Vigneault said. “We will take the next couple of days here to recuperate and recover and we’ll get right back to strategizing for the next series and getting ready.”
The next round won’t get any easier. The Capitals pose the same type of threat as the Penguins, but instead of Sidney Crosby, you get Alex Ovechkin, while the Islanders will be looking to renew the local rivalry and they will take the Rangers to the brink.
It should be interesting, but one thing is for certain:
If the Rangers win, they will advance with their defense and depth.
Now it gets fun.