Barely 96 hours ago, I posted a sizzling rant directed at a listless Rangers squad that was a game from a gut-wrenching first-round series loss to the Senators, doubly galling because the Blueshirts were the No. 1 overall seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Apparently, the message was received.
Thanks to stellar second periods in Games 6 and 7, New York eked out a pair of one-goal wins to dispatch the pesky Sens and advance to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2008. With overall No. 1 seed Vancouver, defending champion Boston and betting favorite Pittsburgh all eliminated in the first round, the Rangers have to be considered the de facto favorite to (gulp)… win the Stanley Cup.
But this NHL postseason has not been kind to favorites and marquee names thus far, and the Rangers have a familiar foe awaiting them in the second round. That would be the Washington Capitals, who bounced the Blueshirts in their last two playoff appearances (2009 and 2011). Unlike last season, however, the Rangers enter this series as the heavy favorite, especially with Capitals star forward Alex Ovechkin basically reduced to a decoy role in Washington’s first-round series win over Boston.