Rangers still a confident team

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:05 AM ET

Don't be fooled by the New York Rangers you saw on Saturday night.

They just happened to have one of those nights -- the kind any married man knows about -- when nothing you do is right.

But this New York team is nowhere near as bad as the 9-2 loss to the Maple Leafs would indicate. In fact, there are those who suggest that this team has all the attributes of a Stanley Cup winner.

One such person is Rangers forward Matt Cullen, who has some expertise in this area, having been an integral part of the team that won the Stanley Cup last year, the Carolina Hurricanes.

Another is Rangers defenceman Aaron Ward, Cullen's teammate in Carolina.

They see the Rangers as having the pre-requisites of a champion -- excellent two-deep goaltending, an extremely powerful top line, a solid two-way defence that doesn't rely on a single star, and first-rate coaching.

"If you look at the last five games," said Ward, "we went about winning games in every fashion. We battled back in some games; we took control in some games. We eked some out."

There's also another New York attribute that neither Ward nor Cullen mentioned, although they would no doubt agree with its inclusion. The Rangers are confident.

That fact was made evident by the way they reacted to Saturday's blowout. In such circumstances, the dressing room of a weak team, fully aware that such disasters are likely to happen again, resembles a funeral parlour.

The Rangers weren't exactly giddy, but they still chuckled about Saturday's game because they felt certain that it was an aberration, not the norm.

Cullen recalled a situation with last year's Hurricanes when a winning streak was terminated by a blowout. But all it did was awaken the team to its shortcomings. The Rangers will react the same way, he said.

Ward said he's confident that the Rangers won't dwell on Saturday's outcome. They know that they got themselves in a hole early and got away from their game.

For example, goalie Henrik Lundqvist is one of the best in the league at smothering rebounds. But the more the Leafs scored, the more lucrative the rebounds that he kicked out.

Ward, who also won a Stanley Cup with the Detroit Red Wings, says the Rangers remind him of that team -- and not only because of the presence of Brendan Shanahan.

"In Detroit, we had the Russian five," Ward said. "Here we've got the Czech four (Jaromir Jagr, Martin Straka, Marek Malik and Michal Roszival) and the token Swede (Michael Nylander), and then we've got the rest of the team.

"In terms of creativity, those guys can do pretty much what they want when they want, because they're so skilled. The other three lines are pretty much a discipline for us. We've got a system we play, and the three lines play it."

Even so, with people like Cullen and Shanahan on the second line, the Rangers are able to come through on the nights when the top line is shut down.

And although there was little evidence of it on Saturday, the Rangers have a creative power play that is among the league's best.

It tends to use a misdirect to get it started -- over the blue line along the boards, then a long pass to the far side to escape the pressure and provide an all-important extra second or so to set up. Then the forwards swirl in front of the net with the idea that the movement will allow one of them to get open.

Combined with the extra attention that opponents tend to give to Jagr, that opening usually isn't long in coming.

With the rise of the Buffalo Sabres this year, the performance of the Rangers has been overlooked by many.

Come the playoffs, that may prove to be a mistake.


Videos

Photos