The Broadway Blueshirts are squaring off with the Broad Street Bullies in the first round of the playoffs, which will mark the first time the two foes have met in the playoffs since 1997.
The Rangers held an edge over the Philadelphia Flyers during the regular season, but none of that matters now. The playoffs are a completely different animal and the Rangers are going to need to step up their game now that the playoffs are here.
This is not to say that the Rangers have played poorly, but energy can go a long way during the trek for the Stanley Cup.
According to Pat Leonard of the New York Daily News, McDonagh will be in the lineup for Game 1 and his return will spark the Rangers in a big way.
Larry Brooks of the New York Post stated before it was determined whom the Rangers would play that, because McDonagh's shoulder was injured, he will be a marked man during the playoffs:
So, the puck will dumped into McDonagh’s corner at every opportunity possible, you bet it will, and forecheckers will arrive with malice aforethought intending to nail the defenseman to the wall, and hey, if it’s a little bit late, or heck, if it’s a lot late, the Flyers or Blue Jackets will be happy to pay a penance of two or five minutes in the box.
Injury or not, teams always play hard against an opposition's top player. There was no structural damage to McDonagh's shoulder, so if he says he can play, he is ready to play without limitation.
Game 1 will be a good indication of what level he is at, but even at 60 percent, McDonagh is better than most defenders in the entire NHL.
For starters, McDonagh’s return to lineup will alleviate the pressure on the rest of the defense corps. McDonagh has historically played big minutes in the playoffs, so guys like Kevin Klein, John Moore and Anton Stralman will get back to playing within their comfort zone.
That is key for the Rangers. They will need all their players fresh and contributing to the best of their abilities because the series against the Flyers could be very taxing.
Strategically, the Rangers should avoid getting into an offensive slugfest with the Flyers. Philadelphia has a number of players who can burn them, including seven forwards on the roster that scored 20 or more goals this season.
Marc Staal and Dan Girardi could have done a decent job shutting down some of Philadelphia’s top threats, but they will have a better chance of being successful with McDonagh back in the lineup.
If the Rangers want to beat the Flyers, they will have to rely on playing a sound all-around game, and McDonagh embodies that.
It sounds simple, and that is because it is. When teams lose a game in the playoffs, it is very easy for a coach to change things up. There isn’t the luxury of time to see if a team can play through it because your season is over after three more losses.
With McDonagh back in the lineup, the Rangers will be able to play the game they need to, and that will be a game that champions creating offense in transition.
First and foremost, McDonagh will be tasked with shutting down explosive forwards such as Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek. In the past, McDonagh has effectively silenced Alex Ovechkin—limiting him to two points in seven games last year—so shutting down Giroux is a real possibility.
Playing solid defense will be McDonagh's primary role, but he will also be looked upon to create offense, primarily when the Rangers are transitioning from defense to offense.
McDonagh won't be initiating coast-to-coast rushes like Brian Leetch used to, but instead he will make that ever-important first pass out of the defensive zone.
His poise in this area will certainly change the dynamic on the back end and be crucial against a team like the Flyers. The Flyers like to play a hard, physical game and the best way to combat that is to be elusive.
The Rangers have a number of solid skaters, and quick precise passes that involve players constantly moving will effectively render the Flyers' method of attack useless. You can't hit what you can't catch, and having a player like McDonagh allows the Rangers to play a game that isn’t stagnant, but instead will keep the Flyers on their toes.
With McDonagh in the lineup, the Rangers will have a standout skater on each of their defense pairings, so that means they will always be in a position where they can transition from defense to offense while leaving their zone.
McDonagh will be that guy on the first pairing, Staal on the second and Moore will take that role on the third grouping.
It may seem like the point is being belabored, but that is only because it is very important.
The game is tighter and sometimes slower in the playoffs because teams aren’t willing to take as many risks.
It is easy to try an aggressive stretch pass that opens up offense in the regular season, because there are fewer risks. In the playoffs, an aggressive offensive surge could become a costly mistake that ends up eliminating a team.
This is not to say that the Rangers shouldn't take calculated risks, but with McDonagh they won’t have to take as many.
The Rangers won’t have to take those risks—or as many of them—because they have a defense corps that includes competent defenders that can skate out of danger before making that first pass that leads to a successful entrance into the offensive zone.
McDonagh is going to be looked upon to be a top player in this series. He is the best defenseman in the series and his offensive and defensive proficiencies make him a threat at all times.
He has always been a solid shutdown defender that has played well during the playoffs, but his offensive emergence this season could be the X-factor that allows the Rangers to steal or shorten the series.
In 2013-14, McDonagh tallied 14 goals and 29 assists for 43 points, and it was an amazing year for the developing defender.
Offensive contributions from a defenseman are a highly coveted commodity and the Rangers have a stud in McDonagh.
He’s no Erik Karlsson or Kris Letang, but he can generate offense without compromising himself defensively. He can also generate offense in situations where his main job is to prevent a goal from being scored.
He has shown this during penalty kills. His three short-handed goals were the most scored by a defender this season and his four short-handed points ranked second only to Victor Hedman of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Rangers’ defensive depth is certainly a strength with McDonagh in the mix. He is a dynamic player no matter how you look at it, and his energy and skill could be the biggest differences in the Rangers’ series against the Flyers.
Statistics courtesy of NHL.com.
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