It’s the most exhilarating, thrilling, terrifying and adrenaline-charged time of the year. It’s time for THE BEST playoffs in all of sports to begin, don’t @ me. It’s that special time of the year when the 16 NHL teams that made it through the winter emerge to the spring and try to make a run for Lord Stanley’s Cup!
The Atlantic division champion Montreal Canadiens will be taking on the New York Rangers, who ended up coming away with the #1 wild card spot. Which in all honesty may have been the best thing for the blue shirts. The Atlantic division is in my opinion the “easier” path to get to the Eastern Conference Finals. Plus, I don’t think my heart or liquor cabinet could handle that right now.
We all know what happened in 2015, and for those who don’t just know that it was a grueling six game series. The series had that oh so familiar Rangers flare to it. During Game 1 Chris Kreider had a breakaway but was dealing with Alexei Emelin hacking away at him, Kreider lost an edge and barreled into Habs goalie Carey Price. This aggravated an already existing injury from earlier in the season for Price and the lower body injury caused him to be sidelined for the rest of the series.
Insert Dustin Tokarski for the rest of the series. The Rangers know all about back up goalies who come out of nowhere, I’m looking at you Semyon Varlamov. Tokarski though would do his best to try and rally the Canadiens but fell just short against a highly powered Rangers team.
The Rangers won the Presidents trophy that year for having the best record in the NHL. The Habs were the second best team in the Eastern Conference, record wise. That’s the last time these teams have faced each other in the post season. So if I were a betting man (which I totally am), I’d say the opening Vegas odds that Chris Kreider receives some jeers from Habs fans at the Bell Centre falls somewhere between WITHOUT A DOUBT and DEAD MAN WALKING.
As mentioned the Rangers were the wild card team so they will be the underdog and won’t have home ice advantage. But with the Rangers having the league’s best away record at 27-12-2 that play to their advantage.
These teams are very much alike yet oh so different. The New York Rangers are the fourth highest scoring team in the league, they had eight forwards with at least 15 goals. A team combined 253 on the year. They have the depth on offense to create chances, but it’s those chances that will be hard to come by. The Rangers will be facing the fourth-best defense in the league, as measured in goals allowed (198). The Rangers are going to have to get creative if they’re going to beat Carey Price, who defeated the Rangers in all three attempts this season.
The opportunities will arise for the Rangers on offense, it’s the defense that any Rangers fan will tell you is the Achilles heel. Ryan McDonagh, God bless his soul; is going to do everything he can to make Dan Girardi look somewhat decent on the first pairing of defense. Brady Skjei has been more than a bright spot for the Rangers as he has turned into a very reliable blue liner with wheels and ability to skate end to end. As well as Nick Holden, he’s done more than enough to impress me given what he’s done so far here in New York.
It’s after that though where it gets rough and any Rangers fan telling you otherwise just doesn’t want to see the writing on the wall. Kevin Klein and Marc Staal are a shell of themselves from just a couple years ago. Brendan Smith hasn’t done really much this year even since dawning the Rangers sweater.
At the end of the day this series is also going to fall on the backs of the guys in the blue paint, the goalies. As I talked about earlier back in the 2015 playoffs, Carey Price left the series in Game 1 after being taken out by Chris Kreider. This time around we should get a full series hopefully out of two of the league’s best goalies.
King Henrik against Carey Price is a highlight reel of saves waiting to happen. Lundqvist is 14-17-3 in the regular season against the Canadiens, one of three NHL teams he has a losing record against (Ottawa Senators, 15-17-3; St. Louis Blues, 4-5-0).
Time to swallow the pill though Rangers fans and it isn’t going to be easy. This series I feel could go either way. Their last matchup in the regular season against the Habs was a bad 4-1 loss where the Rangers just seems out of it. The first and second matchups were a shootout loss and a 4-5 loss in Montreal that I just so happened to witness in person for my birthday. Thanks for reminding me why I drink boys.
I can’t confidently say I think the Rangers can win this series. Give me these two teams on paper and I’ll take the fourth best defense and Carey Price’s numbers any day of the week. Scoring can get you very far but in all sports and without a doubt in hockey you got to be able to roll four lines and play impeccable defense and I hate to say it but the Rangers offense can only carry this team so far, Henrik cannot do it all.
My heart says Rangers, but my brain tells me Canadiens in this series. I hope the Blueshirts prove me wrong, well see what happens when the puck drops tonight at the Bell Centre.