For the seventh straight season and the 11th time in 12 years, your New York Rangers are participating in the postseason.
In prior years, the Blueshirts have used late season pushes, final game miracles or President Trophy aspirations to qualify for the playoffs. But this year, this year was something much different, as they’ve basically been on cruise control since February without a meaningful game in sight.
So the question is, can they flip the switch or will they continue to play uninspired hockey. Let’s take a look at this Original Six matchup.
Since we’re probably going to see this clip 5,000 times during the series, let’s just get it out of the way now…
Kreider is going to be public enemy #1 in Montreal this series, but I fully expect him to thrive on the boos. His physical style of play is perfect for the postseason and is a big reason why he’s much more consistent than in the regular season.
Kreider will be integral in setting up shop in front of Price and taking away his vision of the puck. If Price can see it, he’s going to save it, so limiting his sightline will be a key factor in solving a goaltender who’s had the Rangers number over the years.
Disrespect the King at Your Own Peril
“Carey Price is so great.” “He’s the #1 goalie in the NHL.” “He owns the Rangers.”
I get it, he’s good. And he takes his game to another level when he plays the Blueshirts…
But I’m pretty sure there’s a decent goaltender suiting up for the Rangers, who might be playing with a chip on his shoulder as he’s become the forgotten netminder in this series. I’ve never seen an athlete more competitive than “The King” and now he’s got critics doubting his game? Challenge accepted. While Lundqvist has had his regular season struggles against the Canadiens…
…I think I recall him having an ok series vs. the Canadiens in the 2014 Eastern Conference Final…
Having said that, it’s been a season where Lundqvist hasn’t been able to get into a real rhythm with lots of stops and starts due to injury and Raanta’s emergence. So you do have to wonder what AV’s mindset might be if Lundqvist struggles in the first two games of this series and the Rangers go down 0-2. Does he have the chutzpah to turn to his backup, who arguable had a more consistent season, to spark his team? While that would be a panic move of the highest order, I’m pretty sure that frightening of a scenario might just call for one.
Glass vs. The Rookies
I’m surprised it’s taken me this long to get to Tanner, as despite being a borderline NHLer, he’s somehow dominated the Rangers fan base conversation since his recall in early March. And that won’t change in this series.
10 of the Rangers 12 forward positions are forever filled, however, there’s a battle for the final two spots between three players: Glass, Pavel Buchnevich and Jimmy Vesey.
With the Canadiens acquiring grit and toughness at the trade deadline in the form of Steve Ott and Dwight King, conventional wisdom says that Glass would be the antidote. However that would be playing right into Montreal’s hands. Adding a singular physical player to a lineup will not change the character of this team. It’s just not in the Rangers DNA. This group was not built to bang, it was constructed to skate. The Rangers revamped their forwards this past offseason to play a speed game, so why, now that they’re in the postseason, would they go away from their strength?
Instead of futilely attempting to match the Canadiens physicality, it would behoove the Rangers to get Buchnevich and Vesey into the line-up to skate circles around Montreal’ s bottom six.
In a perfect world, now that Grabner’s scoring has dried up, the Rangers best and most balanced forward lines going into this series would look like this…
Similar to the forwards, the final few spots on defense are up in the air. If I know AV, the definites going into Game 1 are McD, Skjei, Smith, Girardi & Staal. Which leaves the final decision between Klein and Holden (sorry Clendening fans, he’s not getting in). Since AV is usually loyal to the guys he’s gone to battle with, I think Klein gets the Game 1 nod. To be honest, the two of them have been equally horrific recently, so I’m not sure it matters who AV ultimately goes with.
Once the games against Montreal actually begin, the question is what does Vigneault do when Girardi predictably can’t hang with the speed and skill of players such as Pacioretty and Radulov. Since the Canadiens are top heavy skill wise up front, it would make sense for AV to rely exclusively on McD, Skjei and Smith to shutdown the top six. Meanwhile, Girardi, Staal and Klein can be effectively matched-up against the more plodding bottom six.
One wild card on defense could be Kampfer. AV seemed to take a shine to the 28-year old defenseman after his recall with Glass, so if there’s full scale struggles on defense don’t be surprised to see Kampfer inserted at some point.
Nash’s Time Is Now
Nash’s playoff scoring woes have been well documented.
However, I have a feeling he’s going to be the X-factor in this series. Despite having better statistical seasons in New York, this might have been Nash’s best year on Broadway. Whether it was due to concussions or lack of aggression, Nash played most of his early tenure with the Rangers on the perimeter which is never a recipe for postseason success. Conversely, this season Nash has gone to the net with reckless abandon. And it’s paid off.
If he continues this mindset, he could finally carry this team to postseason success.
In case you haven’t heard, Shea Weber shoots the puck hard…
So stopping him on the power play will be of paramount importance for the Blueshirts as special teams are always a huge factor in the postseason.
The Rangers penalty kill is going to need to devise a plan to deny or limit him the puck with the man advantage.
The threat of offense from Grabner on the penalty kill could also be a deterrent for Weber. If the Austrian speedster creates a couple of early short-handed scoring attempts it could plant a seed in Weber’s mind that he needs to be a little more conservative with the puck.
Not sure if everyone remembers, but this was a heated match-up in 2014. Not just because of the Kreider/Price incident, which Brandon Prust felt was “accidentally on purpose,” but also because of Prust’s other contribution to the series…
Which led to Gallagher implying that Stepan, who had a broken jaw, was embellishing the injury…
“I’ve seen broken jaws before.” Gallagher continued: “He got up and was yapping and yelling, so I don’t think the jaw was hurting too much.”
Former Montreal coach Michel Therrien added that it was a good hockey hit while Daniel Briere called the injury “fishy.”
And let’s not forget Practicegate in which Rangers assistant coach Ulf Samuelsson was chased out of the Madison Square Garden stands by Therrien for watching the Canadiens practice between Games 3 & 4. Shortly thereafter, Rangers GM Glen Sather took a seat high in the lower bowl for the rest of the skate.:
“There is always a gentlemen’s agreement between two teams and the general manager that coaches are not allowed to attend practices between games,” Therrien said. “ Game day is different. So when we saw those assistant coaches there, they were not supposed to be there, so we let them know.”
Hey Michel, how did that series end again? I can’t remember. Oh yeah…
Final Analysis & Prediction
All season long Rangers fans have begged for the 1st Wild Card in an effort to stay away from the likes of the Capitals, Penguins and Blue Jackets. Whelp, here they are, just where we wanted them: Starting the series in their House of Horrors, against a team they couldn’t beat this year (0-2-1) while facing a goaltender who owns them. Wait, why did we want to face these guys again?
Despite having all that stacked against them, the “road warrior” Rangers, behind their forward depth and a motivated Lundqvist, will get the job done. Rangers in 7, because they always have to go 7 games just to make their fans suffer.
I also previewed the series on two podcasts. Give them a listen below:
Real Talk Rangers:
NYR Zone Podcast: