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Rangers enter playoffs with balanced scoring attack

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Rick Nash is the leading Rangers' scorer wtih 69 points, which is only 20th in the NHL.Elsa/Getty Images

Rick Nash is the leading Rangers’ scorer wtih 69 points, which is only 20th in the NHL.

Dallas Stars forward Jamie Benn won the Art Ross Trophy as this season’s NHL scoring leader with 87 points. It was the lowest total for a scoring champion in a full season since Chicago Blackhawks legend Stan Mikita’s 87 points in the first post-expansion campaign of 1967-68.

Plenty of theories exist on why individual scoring is down, but one cause could be that the paradigm of success has shifted in the restrictive salary cap era, with more balanced rosters and more balanced approaches from coaches such as the Rangers’ Alain Vigneault.

Vigneault insists on keeping players’ minutes relatively even and squeezing production from all 18 skaters. As a result, while the Blueshirts had no one near the NHL’s top-10 scoring leaders (Rick Nash was 20th with 69 points), 15 Rangers finished with 20 or more points, the team won the Presidents’ Trophy, and their best players were not overused.

To Henrik Lundqvist, the Rangers’ balanced scoring is one of their most encouraging attributes entering their first round series against the wild-card Pittsburgh Penguins, which opens Thursday night at the Garden.

“We know we need to work extremely hard and have players step up at the right time,” Lundqvist said after Saturday’s regular-season finale in Washington, before team off days on Sunday and Monday. “And what I like about this team is we have a lot of different players who can do that. We have a lot of leaders and a lot of skill. So we don’t have to rely on just a few guys, which is important.”

As the Rangers return to practice Tuesday and Wednesday afternoon in Greenburgh, it’s unusual to note that this season’s team had 15, 20-point players compared to just 11 for last year’s squad. Vigneault’s fourth-line was much better-rounded last season than what surrounds center Dominic Moore today.

The difference this season, however, has been on defense.

In 2013-14, only Ryan McDonagh (43 points) and Dan Girardi (24) made the cut. This season, McDonagh (33 points), Kevin Klein (26), Dan Boyle (20), Marc Staal (20) and Girardi (20) all chipped in significantly, often with first-pass assists to jump start a rush. Keith Yandle also had 11 points in 21 games after his deadline trade.

That is especially significant in this series because Pittsburgh’s ability to involve its defensemen offensively has been decimated by injuries.

The Pens will be without top defenseman and third-leading scorer Kris Letang (concussion) and active second-year defenseman Olli Maatta (shoulder). Blue-liner Christian Ehrhoff (concussion) has been in and out of the lineup. Rookie Derrick Pouliot missed the final two regular season games. Pittsburgh actually played with only five defensemen, including journeyman Taylor Chorney, down the stretch due to salary-cap issues.

On Monday they recalled the inexperienced pair of Brian Dumoulin and Scott Harrington to help in the postseason, but it will be difficult for a group led by Paul Martin, Ian Cole, Rob Scuderi and Ben Lovejoy to match the Rangers’ production from the back.

That’s assuming Klein returns healthy to practice Tuesday at noon in Greenburgh to bring the Rangers back to full strength. Klein has missed more than a month since breaking his left forearm blocking an Alex Ovechkin shot on March 11 in Washington.

On Tuesday, the expectation is he’ll be taking shots of his own.

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