The New York Rangers and the Ottawa Senators met four times during the regular season and defeated the Rangers in three out of the four outings, proving that despite the wide placement in the standings, the No. 8 Senators were a tough opponent for the No. 1 Blueshirts.
All things go out the window though in the postseason because it is essentially a whole new game from the regular season.
This couldn't be more true of this series thus far because it has been anything but ordinary.
Usually it takes about two to three games for each team to get a handle on the other, but this series started out with a bang and has only gotten more and more intense from that point on.
In the home opener of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals between the Rangers and Senators on Thursday April 12, the Rangers dominated against the Senators, defeating them 4-2 with goals scored by three out of their four lines.
Since that point on, Ottawa has obviously stepped up their game (as was to be expected from the club), but we have since learned a lot about the two teams from the style of play in the first three games.
Let's take a closer look at what exactly has emerged about this fiery matchup going into game four on Wednesday night.
The New York Rangers are perhaps one of the most physical teams in the NHL, but they are also very smart and controlled in their physicality.
The Ottawa Senators, on the other hand, are known for their quickness and ability to easily capitalize on another team's mistakes. They are also an amazing team offensively, whereas the Rangers are stronger on the defensive side.
Despite the Rangers being the No. 1 seed in the East, the Senators have not backed down and have upped their physical play, showing they can be aggressive and won't be bullied by the Blueshirts.
This all really came to the forefront in Game 1 when Rangers defenseman Brian Boyle took a couple of extra jabs (that weren’t penalized) at Senators defenseman and super-star, Erik Karlsson.
As a result, Game 2 started with a vengeance by Ottawa.
To retaliate for the jabs at Karlsson, Matt Carkner jumped and attacked a defenseless Boyle just minutes into the game, and a brawl broke out.
Brandon Dubinsky (along with a bunch of other teammates on both sides) came to the rescue but was issued a third-man-in-game misconduct and was thrown out of the game, along with Carkner.
Then, later in the game Rangers rookie forward Carl Hagelin got caught up in the excitement of the game and elbowed Senators super-star Daniel Alfredsson (who then left the game with a supposed concussion).
Emotions were obviously high as a result of all that has incurred thus far and have only heightened with each game.
Although, as of Game 3 both teams are playing a little more cautiously so as not to be penalized for stupid penalties.
Any chance either team gets they are using the body and not just on the enforcers but on the goaltenders and leading scorers.
Ottawa has definitely beefed up their aggressiveness though, and in Game 3 alone had 48 hits to the Rangers 33.
It has been evident not only during the playoffs, but throughout the entire regular season what a positive and lasting effect great goaltending can have on a team.
This has clearly been the case with the New York Rangers, who have relied heavily on the amazing efforts, calmness and skill of their No. 1 netminder, Henrik Lundqvist.
Lundqvist is having the best year of his career. He slimmed down about 15 pounds from last season and head coach John Tortorella made the adjustment to rest him when needed, which both contribute to his stellar records this season.
Also, it helped him to be clear and focused for the postseason (where he knew he was going to be used a lot).
Lundqvist has the exceptional ability to stay calm under pressure, which was obviously the case in Game 3 when chaos ensued many a time near the net.
In Game 3 alone he had 39 saves in the 1-0 shutout and basically kept his team in the game.
He stole the win for the Rangers because without him it might have gotten a little hairy to say the least.
Tortorella paid homage to Lundqvist in a postgame interview Monday night stating:
“We have an identity that we have tried to cultivate in our locker room and every time [Henrik Lundqvist] plays it starts with him.”
That is quite the compliment coming from Torts, given his moody and often temperamental nature.
Much can also be said for the Senators goaltender, Craig Anderson who has been having himself a good series as well.
He stopped 22 shots on goal Monday night and 27 in each of the prior two games. His save percentage in the playoffs is .916, as opposed to Lundqvist's .951, but he also kept his team in the game Monday night with a couple of amazing saves.
With the exception of Game 1 for the Senators, both teams should be rather pleased with their goaltending, which has been exceptionally strong on either end.
The major focus this season with the Rangers club has been their focus on teamwork and that has been a large part of their "not so secret" secret to their success.
There is no reliance on super-star players but rather the team functions as a whole.
And, while Lundqvist has been excellent this year (as mentioned in the prior slide) it is often a team effort in front of the net when he is a pinch.
Goals are also scored by every single one of their lines, and the same can be said for blocked shots and defensive plays (no matter what position one plays).
Every single person on the roster is expected to perform at their best, and nothing less will be tolerated.
The Rangers play for each other and want to win for one another, which solidifies what team sports are all about.
Just look at the Pittsburgh Penguins. They have a number of star players, but they are more concerned with working individually and are completely falling apart in the postseason as a result.
The Rangers, on the other hand don't allow anything to deter from them as a unit.
Even with Carl Hagelin out of the lineup for three days (due to the bogus ruling by the NHLPA), the Rangers were not fazed in the least, and when Tortorella was asked about the changes to the lineup, he emphasized how it was a non-issue.
This further displays the team atmosphere because while there are obviously key players, the focus is on the whole and not on the individual.
The Rangers ability to work and thrive as a sum of their parts is what makes them such a dangerous opponent for the Senators, and I think that has been expressed quite clearly in the first three games.
The Blueshirts were able to implement Chris Kreider into the lineup for his first NHL game ever in place of Hagelin without a glitch, and it is through teamwork that he will learn to blossom as a Ranger should he remain in the postseason past the next few games.
This is not to say that the Senators don't play well as a team themselves, but you can very clearly tell the difference between the two clubs. Point in case is their nervousness over Alfredsson being out of the lineup.
Both the Rangers and the Senators are looking to capitalize on signs of the other team's weaknesses.
This can be displayed in a number of instances.
For one, the Senators are learning that they can capitalize when the Rangers lose faceoffs, as was shown in overtime in Game 2 when a loss of a faceoff cost the Rangers the game.
In Game 3 alone the Senators won 29 faceoffs to the Rangers' 15. This is something they will look to continue to excel in going forward because they spot a weakness there.
Being that the Senators are such a fast team, the Rangers need to work on this area of their play.
Another example was learned Monday night by the Rangers. They observed during practice, as well as during the game, how to use the puck's bounce off the boards to their advantage.
This was how Boyle was able to score the lone goal in Game 3's 1-0 shutout.
And speaking of Boyle, he is yet another great example of finding ways to win. His strong presence in front of the net is proving to be a force to be reckoned with, and it is clear that he has gotten under the Senators' skin.
Boyle has also found a way to score in each of the three games played, so he is a tricky weapon for the Rangers because he seems to have figured out Anderson.
At this point in the postseason both teams are hungry to win the series, and they will use whatever edge they can to get ahead. These are just a few examples that have been shown so far.
There is a lot of hockey left to play in this series, and I think we can expect much of the same intensity and physicality going forward, as well as a few surprises I am sure.