Five years after the last post-season qualification, Rangers will be back among the teams looking to lift the Stanley Cup.
It could happen as soon as Saturday night in the park if the Rangers can drive out the visiting senators. If not Saturday, then head coach Gerard Gallant’s surprise squad will inevitably return to the 16-team tournament.
“Every year when you play and aim for the playoffs, you aim to win. Alternate captain Mika Zibanijad, one of the longest-running Rangers, definitely feels better than it was.” “It was worth the wait and it was fun to be here despite having A few tough years or though you want to call them. It’s fun to be a part of the solution, and just being here now, it’s obviously a better feeling.”
A lot has changed since the last time the Rangers were in this position. This season had to go far for that to happen, from the development of key young players to good luck in the draft lottery to bold moves to have Chris Drury as general manager and Gallant behind the bench. He’s led to the point, with a tough-minded but still young group that has exceeded the low expectations with which she entered the season.
“I read a lot of stuff since we’re going back in October and we haven’t been there,” Gallant said with a wry smile. “It was a good start, we played our first 72 good games. I am happy where we are, but you can never be satisfied because things change in a minute.”
On Friday, Gallant made sure to give credit to those who preceded him, and noted that he felt this team’s arrow was pointing upwards before his arrival. Drury’s predecessors, Jeff Gorton and John Davidson, reconstructed the Seniors List. They’ve brought in, among others, Adam Fox, Jacob Tropa, Cabo Kaku, Alexis Lavrinier, Artemi Banarin, Ryan Lindgren, and Ryan Strom. Last year’s team, coached by David Quinn, missed the playoffs by just four points.
Drury has clearly found the right coach in the 58-year-old Galant and has taken important steps to strengthen this group, adding significant depth up front and onto the blue streak in the trade deadline.
“When I got to this team, I knew there [were] Some small holes to take care of, but it was on its way up. Years before that, they had some good young players, and they had to take another step, and that’s what we talked about [before the season]Galant said. “They were on their way, and they took another step again this year, just as they will do again next year. They are young kids, we are still a young team. They took a step and it is going in the right direction.”
There aren’t any big celebrations planned. Gallant laughed when asked if he would pop any champagne when this elusive area is settled. He won’t coach the next 10 games any differently than the first 72, and his players won’t play any different either. The first place can still be reached. Rangers trailed the Hurricanes by two points when they entered on Friday and drew 7-2-1 in their last 10 games. Getting to the postseason was just the first goal.
“I was expecting to do the playoffs,” Gallant said. “I would be happy, but I hope to celebrate at the end of June. That’s when you want to celebrate.”