The New York Rangers didn't run away with the Eastern Conference like they did a season ago, but they will take part in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for a third straight year.
By virtue of their 4-3 overtime victory against the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday, the Rangers clinched one of the final spots in the postseason.
Here are five reasons the Rangers are entering the playoffs on a hot streak after an ice-cold start:
1. Rick Nash kept them afloat early: His numbers weren't flashy in the early going, but when the Rangers were at their most anemic offensively, Nash was carrying the load. He had four goals in his first 15 games, but he continuously generated chances for linemates with his speed and size and when he did score, it was usually a big goal. He has been terrific overall as well, with 19 goals and 40 points in 43 games.
2. The emergence of Derek Stepan: There were very few members of the Rangers who played consistently well all season, but Stepan delivered at a high level throughout. In 47 games, the 22-year-old has 17 goals and 42 points. Last season in 82 games, he had 17 goals and 51 points. With Brad Richards struggling, Stepan became the de facto No. 1 center and excelled with Nash on his wing.
3. Henrik Lundqvist found his Vezina form: Statistically, January was Lundqvist's worst month (3-4-0, 2.79, .904) with at least seven starts since November 2009 (4-6-0, 2.81, .905). But since that rough patch, Lundqvist has been one of the best goaltenders in the League. In his past 35 starts, he is 20-12-3 with a 1.98 GAA and .929 save percentage. Numbers like that were imperative for a team that near the bottom of the League in goal scoring for most of the season.
4. Trade deadline paid dividends: The Rangers added Ryane Clowe from the San Jose Sharks for draft picks and dealt Marian Gaborik to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Derick Brassard, John Moore and Derek Dorsett. Everyone except Dorsett, who was been out since before the trade with a broken collarbone, has been part of the Rangers' 8-2-1 surge in April. The Rangers have scored 47 goals this month, and Brassard and Clowe have combined for eight goals and 11 assists in 24 games. Moore has provided depth on the blue line with Marc Staal out with an eye injury.
5. Beating up on lesser opponents: The Rangers had their share of problems against the Eastern Conference's top teams, but they never stopped amassing points against the bottom half of the conference. Including the win against the Hurricanes, the Rangers are 15-6-0 against the bottom six teams in the conference. They finish the regular season with a game against the New Jersey Devils, so there's a pretty good chance the Rangers can rise to sixth in the East.
Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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