(Long Island, NY) The New York Rangers embark on the second half of the NHL regular season after heading into the Olympic break leading the Atlantic Division with 78 points. Their 35-15-8 record is a big turnaround from recent seasons. They are heading into the second half to become a team to reckon with and qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 1997. The Broadway Blues are back and ready for the big stage.
The Rangers are leading the second place Philadelphia Flyers by 3 points. They are currently the third seed in the Eastern Conference, trailing the Carolina Hurricanes (82 points) and Ottawa Senators (79 points). Over in the Western Conference, the Detroit Red Wings are ahead with 83 points with the Dallas Stars behind them with 79 points. So it is not out of the question that the Rangers can win the President’s Trophy.
Jaromir Jagr is having an MVP-caliber season with 40 goals, 48 assists, 88 points, 7 game winning goals, and a +24 +/- ratio. Rookie Petr Prucha has been a sensational surprise with 25 goals, 9 assists and 34 points. He should be returning soon from an injury he suffered right before the break.
Rookie goaltender Henrik Lundqvist has been the biggest factor in the Blue Shirts’ turnaround. His first half record of 25-7-6, 2 shutouts, 2.09 goals against average and a .927 save percentage has to have him being considered for the Rookie of the Year award, along with teammate Prucha and the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Sidney Crosby. Lundqvist is also coming back to Madison Square Garden sporting his gold medal that he won in the Torino Winter Olympic games for Sweden. The 24-year old netminder had a superb tournament and helped his home country defeat the previously unbeaten Finland 3-2 in the gold medal game.
A wonderful completion to that story would be for Lundqvist to lead the Rangers to the Stanley Cup championship. He could live the dream that Ken Morrow had come true in 1980. After being a part of the United States Olympic hockey team that won the gold medal at Lake Placid in 1980, he was on the New York Islanders when they captured Lord Stanley a few months later.
The Rangers fans are behind this team and Head Coach Tom Renney has done a magnificent job with the mix of veterans and younger players. If the front office can swing a deal for a playoff-tested veteran before the NHL trading deadline on March 9th, the Rangers may be one of the favorites to come out of the pack on top.