4 Burning Questions After Start of New York Rangers' 1st-Round Playoff Matchup
The Rangers have been in control for most of the series, really losing only one period—Game 2, Period 2—to their bitter rivals. They look like a focused and determined hockey team that has wholeheartedly bought into Alain Vigneault’s style.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t still uncertainty, though. Some players are failing to fire on all cylinders, while others may be playing above their heads. These situations spawn questions—burning questions, if you will.
So check it out: Here are the four biggest questions surrounding the Rangers in their first-round matchup.
Can the Rangers Continue to Take a Beating?
One of the biggest draws of this series was the contrasting styles between the two teams. The Rangers play an uptempo finesse game, while the Flyers sport a physical, grind-it-out style.
The Rangers are currently up in this series because they’ve forced the Flyers to play Blueshirts hockey. But that hasn’t stopped Philly from playing physically.
As a matter of fact, the Rangers have frustrated the Flyers so much that they’re playing over-physical hockey, taking a majority of the series’ penalties. The Rangers, for the most part, have made the Flyers pay, but New York is also paying a price.
A team can only take so much of a beating, especially in the playoffs when the most intense hockey is played. The question here is: How much of a beating can the Rangers take?
If New York keeps forcing the issue and forcing its rival to play its brand, the physical blow will be less costly. But the longer this series lasts, the tougher the Flyers will get, and therefore, if you’re Alain Vigneault and the Rangers, you want to end this series as soon as possible.
Can Marty St. Louis Keep Up His Scoring Pace?
After scoring just one goal and eight points in 19 games as a Ranger following his high-profile departure from the Tampa Bay Lightning, Marty St. Louis has scored two goals and five points in the series’ first three games.
Watching him struggle during the regular season was gut-wrenching for the Garden faithful, but the most sensible Rangers fans knew his best would come in the playoffs.
A former Stanley Cup champion who has scored 73 points in 66 NHL playoff games, St. Louis is the type of player who steps his game up when the most is at stake. You can tell by his intensity and focus, and when you pair those with his all-world skill, you’ve got a playoff menace.
Therefore, we can expect more of the same from St. Louis moving forward. He has the proverbial monkey off his back and is in the zone; there’s no reason to think he'll slow down.
Will Rick Nash Ever Score?
In 2012-13, Rick Nash infamously—and unfortunately—scored just one goal in 12 playoff games. Despite his ineptitude, the Rangers were able to defeat the No. 3-seeded Washington Capitals in seven games in Round 1, but when facing the eventually Eastern Conference champion Boston Bruins in the second round, New York couldn’t muster up enough offense without its leading scorer producing.
Granted, Nash has four assists through the Rangers’ first three playoff games, so he is showing up on the scoresheet, but if the Rangers are going to make a real run in the tournament, he will have to find a way to get the puck in the net. Derek Stepan cannot be counted on to score goals on a regular basis; he’s the playmaker, while Nash is the goal scorer.
Playing with Stepan and St. Louis, you’d have to think Nash will get one sooner rather than later. Playoff confidence is still an issue for him. He lacks the intensity to compete at the playoff level, and until he learns to do so—or if the Rangers meet the Columbus Blue Jackets in the second round—Nash is going to struggle.
He simply has too much and is playing alongside too much talent to remain without a goal throughout the rest of the series, so expect Nash to light the lamp sooner rather than later. Whether or not that totally opens his game up, well, we’ll see.
How Long Can Ryan McDonagh Afford to Play Mediocre Hockey?
Anyone who reads my columns knows that I’m Ryan McDonagh’s biggest fan. What he’s been able to do this season is a testament to his drive, focus and desire to be a world-class hockey player.
That being said, the St. Paul, Minnesota, native has struggled to find his footing in Round 1.
Luckily for him, though, Claude Giroux is also struggling.
There was always concern as to how long it would take McDonagh to get back on track after missing the final five games of the regular season with a shoulder injury. Although his absence wasn’t prolonged, rejoining a team in a playoff atmosphere can be difficult.
To say he is playing bad hockey is unfair, but he’s clearly not at his best. He’s sporting a minus-three rating and facing Giroux’s line almost exclusively. Giroux has only registered a couple of assists and has been rendered scoreless, but it’s not necessarily because of McDonagh. His partner Dan Girardi has had his back through the first three contests, but Giroux and his linemates are too dynamic for the duo to survive short-handed.
In the wake of Giroux’s comments following the Flyers’ 4-1 loss on Tuesday night—claiming they were “going to tie up this series,” per Adam Kimelman of NHL.com—you have to think Giroux is going to come out flying on Friday night.
I wouldn’t expect a Mark Messier-like performance from the 26-year-old—who is barely a fraction of the player "Moose" was—but McDonagh is going to have to turn his game around immediately...like on Friday.