With the New York Rangers completing a historical regular season by clinching the President’s Trophy and breaking the team records of most wins (53) and points (113) in a regular season, they are the heavy favorites heading into the postseason. However, the playoffs are a time where the unexpected happens and the underdogs often prevail. The playoff picture has finally been set and the Broadway Blueshirts will play the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round. This will be the second year in a row and the third time since 2008.
The two teams last met in the playoffs last year, in the second round, with the Rangers edging the Penguins in seven games. After New York won game one, the Penguins took a 3-1 lead in the series. However, due to unfortunate circumstances, Martin St. Louis lost his mother. The team rallied behind him and his loss, and came out determined in game 5. Mr. Game Seven himself, Brad Richards, scored the series winning goal on the power play while Henrik Lundqvist made some spectacular saves in the final two minutes to hold on.
This season, the Penguins, who just barely made the playoffs, almost looked like a deflated team when playing New York. The Rangers won the regular season series, 3-0-1 (with the only loss coming in a shootout). Pittsburgh has had a rough final two weeks of the regular season, but don’t let that sway your opinion.
Pittsburgh is a team full of talent. With star players such as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and depth up and down their lineup, they can strike quite quickly. However, they will be without their star defenseman, Kris Letang who suffered a concussion.
Their blue line does not have as much depth as the Rangers, and Marc Andre-Fleury will be relied on heavily. He will need to stand on his head and deliver every game if the Penguins are to have a chance of getting past the first round.
The Rangers have proven that their depth can carry them to the top. When Henrik Lundqvist went down, Cam Talbot stepped up to the plate and delivered. When Rick Nash went cold for periods at a time, third and fourth line players like Kevin Hayes or Jesper Fast scored big goals. Their entire line-up is fast and creative. They can skate teams right out of the building when they are playing their style of hockey.
New York will need their power play to step up in the playoffs if they are to make another deep run. The Penguins have the third best penalty killing unit in the entire league, and the Rangers power play fell in the standings and finished the season ranked 21st. Their power play has gone stagnant and need to be revived in order for the team to be successful. Power plays can win or lose games, and the Blueshirts are lucky that their inability to score has not cost them yet.
No doubt this will be an interesting series, especially since the Penguins will want revenge. It will be a tough hard fought battle, but the Rangers are a battle tested team and can easily knock out Crosby and the Penguins if they stick to their style of hockey. The real season begins now.