Rangers mailbag: Ingredients needed for a Stanley Cup run

You ask, we answer. The Post is fielding questions from readers about New York’s biggest pro sports teams and getting our beat writers to answer them in a series of regularly published mailbags. In today’s installment: the Rangers.

As we enter uncharted waters with little to no precedent in terms of what to expect in the upcoming tournament, for the Rangers in particular, is there any one thing you view as a key criterion/factor for success in hoisting the Cup this year? — Mike Shapiro

It is not unique to this team or this year, but the Rangers will need elite goaltending to have a chance, and with the way Igor Shesterkin played following his January promotion and NHL debut, they have that chance. (If Henrik Lundqvist beats out Shesterkin for the No. 1 job in camp, the same would apply). The Rangers are a top-heavy team, so they would need superior performances from top-end forwards Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider. They would also need young defensemen Adam Fox, Ryan Lindgren and Tony DeAngelo to play like veterans.

I believe you recently wrote about past two-man defense pairings in Rangers history. Which are the best four-man groups, and where would you rank the late ’60s top-four of (Harry) Howell, (Arnie) Brown, (Jim) Neilson and (Rod) Seiling? — Joseph Palumbo

I would take the 1970-71 top four of Brad Park, Tim Horton, Neilson and Seiling; the 1978-79 group featuring Ron Greschner, Dave Maloney, Carol Vadnais and Mike McEwen; the 2013-14 defense with Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi, Marc Staal and Anton Stralman; plus the imposing 1957-58 lineup of Howell, Bill Gadsby, Tex Evans and Leapin’ Louie Fontinato ahead of your quartet.

Do you think the Rangers would have won a Cup if Michael Sauer had stayed healthy? — Max Neuberger

My first instinct: No, having a slightly stronger defense would not have made the difference. And would Sauer have been as effective as a second-pair guy as Stralman was from 2012-14? But on second thought, had Sauer stayed healthy, the Blueshirts defense presumably would have had lined up with McDonagh-Girardi, Staal-Sauer, Michael Del Zotto-Stralman pairs for the 2012 playoffs. Perhaps with that depth, coach John Tortorella would not have cut down his bench so early in games and perhaps the team would not have had to endure a pair of seven-game series before arriving to the conference finals against the Devils as an exhausted team. So the answer: probably not, but possible.

Has the (Derick) Brassard for Mika Zibanejad trade become the reverse of (Rick) Middleton for (Ken) Hodge? (I’ll never get over that one) — Doug Matthews

Zibanejad (and a second-rounder) for Brassard stands as a great deal. But when No. 93 — has any team had a better roster of No. 93s than the Blueshirts, who go Petr Nedved, Keith Yandle and Zibanejad? — records 400 goals and nearly 900 points for New York as “Nifty” did in Boston (402 goals, 496 assists, 898 points), then you can get back to me on this one.

As a former paying spectator and long-time journalist, do you prefer the white jerseys or dark jerseys for home teams? I prefer white for the visiting team variety, but there’s no reason the Canadiens or Devils couldn’t wear red sweaters at MSG against the Broadway blues. — Silvio Pietroluongo

I prefer white for the home team so that fans are exposed to the array of visiting teams’ color schemes. No more Bleu, Blanc et Rouge at MSG? Sacré bleu!

I was always a third or fourth liner in my roller hockey days, so those are the Rangers I gravitated to. My favorite was No. 27 Teddy Irvine. I don’t know how much interest an article on “famous Ranger third lines” would illicit, but you would have to rank Pete Stemkowski, Teddy Irvine & Bruce MacGregor/Jerry Butler right up top. — Joe McGrath

Teddy Irvine rates as one of the franchise’s legit tough guys who also played a meaningful five-on-five role. His acquisition from LA in exchange for Juha Widing and Real Lemieux stands as one of Emile Francis’ most astute moves. By the way: From February 1970 through November 1972, the Rangers traded centers Widing (22 years old), Don Luce (22), Syl Apps Jr. (23) and Curt Bennett (24). They received Irvine, Stemkowski, Glen Sather and Ron Harris in return.

Irvine-Stemkowski-MacGregor is certainly the best third line in Rangers history, but I’m not sure that I’d take them over the Islanders’ 1980 Cup-winning third line of John Tonelli-Wayne Merrick-Bobby Nystrom. And then there were the Devils in 1994-95 with a third line of either Valeri Zelepukin-Sergei Brylin (or Jim Dowd)-Bill Guerin or Claude Lemieux-Bobby Carpenter-Stephane Richer, and in the 2000 playoffs with Jay Pandolfo-Bobby Holik-Lemieux.

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