The New York Rangers were expected to be the area’s second-best hockey team this season.
The Islanders were coming off consecutive trips to the Eastern Conference finals, and had plenty of backers during the preseason.
In fact, as one ESPN story noted, entering October, the Isles had received more bets to win the Stanley Cup than any other team at the SuperBook (not available in New York).
But sometimes things don’t go as anticipated. The road-heavy start of the schedule — due to the construction of UBS Arena — and a COVID-19 outbreak put the Islanders in a hole the was too difficult to climb out of. And beloved coach Barry Trotz was shockingly fired at the end of the 2021-22 campaign.
For the Rangers, however, everything has seemed to break right. The Broadway Blueshirts opened the season at +2500 to win the Cup at BetMGM. Now, just two wins away from advancing to the finals, Rangers betting odds sit at +375. Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals is Tuesday night at 8 p.m. in Tampa.
Rangers use familiar formula during playoff run
The Rangers have used a familiar formula to get to this point: all-world goaltending from Igor Shesterkin, a lethal power play and their stars (Mika Zibanejad, Artemi Panarin, Chris Kreider, Adam Fox) performing like stars. Those three factors have more than made up for the team often being outplayed at 5-on-5.
Owner James Dolan’s impatience with the rebuilding process led to a housecleaning in the front office and coaching staff. New GM Chris Drury inherited a strong foundation and built on it. He hired coach Gerard Gallant, who — no surprise — has his team performing better than expected at this stage.
Youngsters Alexis Lafreniere, Filip Chytil and Kaapo Kakko all went through their share of struggles during the regular season before forming the vaunted “Kid Line” which has had its share of dominant shifts during the playoffs. Likewise, 20-somethings K’Andre Miller, Ryan Lindgren and Braden Schneider have all elevated their play on the blue line.
Meanwhile, Drury fortified the lineup by acquiring Andrew Copp, Frank Vatrano, Tyler Motte and Justin Braun.
Rangers have put worry into Lightning
The Rangers have gotten their fair share of breaks, of course. Facing third-stringer Louis Domingue (Penguins) and backup Antti Raanta (Hurricanes) was preferable to facing starters Tristan Jarry and Frederik Andersen in the first two rounds. And the Tampa Bay Lightning are without star Braden Point (who could potentially return later in the series).
Still, the Blueshirts were able to put nine goals past back-to-back champion Andrei Vasilevskiy en route to a 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference finals. And they were up 2-0 with a chance to make it a three-game before suffering a heartbreaking defeat in the final minute.
The Rangers, of course, are a bit banged up themselves. Gallant told reporters in Tampa that both Barclay Goodrow and Ryan Strome are expected to play.
The Lightning are battle-tested, and this is a game they typically haven’t lost. Of course, they’d won 17 straight games after a postseason loss. The Blueshirts ended that streak in Game 2. Bettors believe Game 4 is basically a toss-up, with 51% of the moneyline handle at BetMGM on the Rangers (+145) and 49% on Tampa (-175).
As for many New Yorkers, well, they’ll be hoping the Rangers’ long-shot ride continues — from 25-1 preseason odds to a Stanley Cup title.