By Steve Silverman
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The playoffs have reached the endgame scenario for the New York Rangers.
They will determine over the next three games if they will move on to the Stanley Cup finals or whether their promising season ends in disappointment.
There can be no more loose play, missed opportunities or slow starts. The New Jersey Devils are simply too good to let the Rangers get away with that kind of play any longer.
If the Rangers should find a way to get two more wins against the Devils, they will find an even better team waiting for them when the Los Angeles Kings come east for a dream Stanley Cup finals (from a marketing point of view).
What happens from this point in the series is not about speeches from John Tortorella or Peter DeBoer. It's not about the "boys" playing with heart and effort. Everything that can be said has already been said. There will be no lack of effort from either side. It's about talent and execution.
Nobody executed better than Zach Parise in Game 4. He scored two goals and added a picture-perfect assist on Travis Zajac's first-period goal that proved to be the game-winner. It was almost certainly the best game played by a Rangers' opponent in this playoff season.
Now it's time for the Rangers forwards to step up and match Parise's production. The black-and-white of the score sheet provides a telling a story. Through 18 playoff games, four Rangers players have 10 or more points and two of them are defensemen Dan Girardi (11 points) and Michael Del Zotto (10 points). Brad Richards (14 points) and Marian Gaborik (10 points) are the only Ranger forwards averaging more than .5 points per game.
The lack of scoring from the team's forwards seemed to be the biggest issue as the playoffs got underway. Despite the success of the Kings, the Rangers are at the top of the list for goaltending, blocking shots and defense in the playoffs. But when it comes to scoring from the men upfront, the Rangers are sadly deficient at putting the puck in the net.
This is no surprise to many of the league's top observers and scouts who saw the Rangers' inability to creatively make plays and score goals as their primary weakness as the playoffs got underway.
Obviously, much is expected from Richards, who won a Stanley Cup while playing for Tortorella when both were with the Tampa Bay Lightning. There are no issues with Richards' effort or his willingness to put himself in harm's way when there is a chance to make a play. The same can't be said of Gaborik, who likes to lurk on the outside and hope for an opening. He doesn't crash the net with any regularity and that's why Tortorella has sat him from time to time.
But even if Richards turns it up a notch and Gaborik is willing to pay the price, it's up to Ryan Callahan, Derek Stepan, Brian Boyle and Carl Hagelin to put their imprint on the final games of the series. Boyle has just 3 goals and 3 assists in the playoffs, but he seems the closest to breaking through. He has fired 32 shots on net and he seems to have a knack for putting himself in a position where he could score. Stepan is probably the most snake-bit player in the postseason. He has fired 36 shots on net and only one has found its way to the back of the net. That's a robust 2.8 shooting percentage. When analysts talk about a player who is squeezing his stick too tightly, that's the situation with Stepan right now.
It's not a matter of being patient or asking the defense and Henrik Lundqvist to do their part. If the Rangers are going to win the Stanley Cup, they need something called "balanced scoring" to rear its head and take over. Something like three goals in the first period and five goals in a game.
While that type of production seems unlikely, that's just what is needed. If you look at the last four Stanley Cup winners, the Bruins, Blackhawks, Penguins and Red Wings all got that kind of scoring during the playoffs. If the Rangers are going to put their names on Lord Stanley's finest hardware, they must do the same.
Game 5 would be the perfect time to do that.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who's Better, Who's Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy).
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