Rangers vs. Canadiens: Preview and Prediction for NHL Playoffs 2014 Matchup

Dave Lozo@@davelozoNHL National Lead WriterMay 15, 2014

Rangers vs. Canadiens: Preview and Prediction for NHL Playoffs 2014 Matchup

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    For the first time since 1996, the New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens are set to collide in the playoffs, this time with a trip to the Stanley Cup Final on the line.

    The Rangers rallied from a 3-1 series deficit to win their second-round series with the Pittsburgh Penguins; the Canadiens overcame a 3-2 series hole to eliminate the Boston Bruins.

    The Canadiens took two of three from the Rangers in the regular season, including a 1-0 overtime win in the season finale for both teams that saw each club resting most of its key players.

    This slideshow is a breakdown of this conference final series, featuring looks at players to watch, which matchup is the most one-sided and a glimpse at the terrific goaltending battle between Carey Price and Henrik Lundqvist.

    “There are not going to be many pretty goals in that series,” said Max Pacioretty, per Howie Kussoy of the New York Post. “Like any hot goalie, you have to take away his eyes and battle for rebounds. Dirty goals are goals that goalies can’t control. … That’s going to be part of our game plan.


    All statistics via NHL.com and ExtraSkater.com.

Second-Round Recap

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    Montreal Canadiens

    Staring down a 3-2 series deficit against their archrivals, the Canadiens blitzed the Boston Bruins 4-0 in Game 6 and left TD Garden with a 3-1 victory in Game 7. The Bruins finished the regular season as the Presidents' Trophy winners with 117 points while the Canadiens had 100. That 17-point difference makes it the biggest upset of the 2014 playoffs.

    Carey Price was the difference in the series, posting a .936 save percentage that fails to properly convey just how hard he was to beat. P.K. Subban was another huge factor in beating the Bruins, as he had four goals and three assists.


    New York Rangers

    The Rangers overcame their own adversity, rallying from a 3-1 series hole to knock out the Pittsburgh Penguins in a seventh game on the road. It was also a big upset based on the regular-season standings, as the Penguins finished with 13 more points than the Rangers.

    Henrik Lundqvist was the biggest reason the Rangers were able to win the final three games of the series. He stopped 102 of 105 shots in Games 5-7 and had a .940 save percentage for the series.

    The Rangers' big guns weren't firing against the Penguins, but the third line of Mats Zuccarello, Derick Brassard and Benoit Pouliot combined for six goals and 13 points in the series.

Schedule and TV Info

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    Game 1: Saturday, May 17, at 1 p.m. ET; Rangers at Canadiens; CBC, NBC, RDS

    Game 2: Monday, May 19, at 8 p.m. ET; Rangers at Canadiens; CBC, NBCSN, RDS

    Game 3: Friday, May 22, at 8 p.m. ET; Canadiens at Rangers; CBC, NBCSN, RDS

    Game 4: Sunday, May 25, at 8 p.m. ET; Canadiens at Rangers; CBC, NBCSN, RDS

    *Game 5: Tuesday, May 27, at 8 p.m. ET; Rangers at Canadiens; CBC, NBCSN, RDS

    *Game 6: Thursday, May 29, at 8 p.m. ET; Canadiens at Rangers; CBC, NBCSN, RDS

    *Game 7: Saturday, May 31, at 8 p.m. ET; Rangers at Canadiens; CBC, NBCSN, RDS

    *- if necessary

Key Storylines

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    Can the Rangers Win in Montreal?

    The Rangers had the third-best road record (25-14-2) in the NHL during the regular season and won a pair of elimination games in Pittsburgh in the second round. Yet that road dominance hasn't translated into wins at the Bell Centre in recent years.

    The Rangers split the two meetings in Montreal this season but were 0-6-2 there in their previous eight games and were shut out five times. 


    Will Either Team Have a Letdown?

    Both teams are coming off draining comeback series wins that featured Game 7 victories on the road. The Rangers will have had three days off before the start of this series, the Canadiens two.

    In 2012, the Rangers won their first two series in seven games before hitting a wall in the conference final. The Canadiens could benefit energy-wise thanks to their first-round sweep of the Lightning, but the team that doesn't have a dip in play at the start of this series could have a huge advantage.


    Can P.K. Subban Be Neutralized?

    There's no secret about what it takes to slow a top-notch defenseman—hit him hard and hit him often, and wear him down over the course of a series. That was the Bruins' plan last round, and it worked to an extent.

    Subban had zero goals and two shots in the final two games of the series and had negative possession numbers at five-on-five (minus-32 Corsi) over the final three games. The Rangers aren't nearly as physical as the Bruins, so they may need to address that when Subban is on the ice.

Players to Watch

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    Rick Nash, New York Rangers

    Have you heard? Rick Nash hasn't scored yet in the postseason. It may have been written about a few times in the past month. Well, it's the start of the third round, and Nash has zero goals in 14 games.

    It hasn't come back to bite the Rangers yet, but it's hard to fathom a scenario in which the Rangers can win the Stanley Cup with zero goals from their best goal scorer. In 10 career games against the Canadiens, Nash has three goals.


    Daniel Briere, Montreal Canadiens

    It's not too often a fourth-line center who has been healthy-scratched in the postseason is worth watching, but this is Daniel Briere.

    He scored the backbreaking goal late in Game 7 against the Bruins and has two goals and six points in 10 games despite limited ice time. In 118 career playoff games, Briere has 115 points, which ranks 61st on the all-time list.

    Among active players, Briere ranks fifth in career playoff points. He's not the player he once was, but he still has enough tricks left in his bag to be a factor, with The Canadian Press' Stephen Whyno noting that the veteran "still has that playoff magic."


    Ryan McDonagh, Montreal Ca…No, Wait, New York Rangers

    Mentioning Ryan McDonagh's name to a Canadiens fan is akin to punching them in the stomach. The Rangers acquired McDonagh from Montreal five years ago in a deal that gave the Canadiens Scott Gomez, one of the more lopsided deals in recent years.

    McDonagh has blossomed into a No. 1 defenseman and potential Norris Trophy candidate for the coming years. He'll be paired with Dan Girardi and will have the job of shutting down the Canadiens' top line that features Max Pacioretty. 

    Canadiens fans, can you imagine a top pairing of McDonagh and Subban? Sorry.

Goaltender Breakdown

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    Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens

    This isn't technically Price's first trip to the conference final, as he was part of the team that got that far in 2010 and lost to the Philadelphia Flyers. But he watched Jaroslav Halak play in that series, as Price only took the ice four times in that postseason.

    Still, Price won Olympic gold in Sochi in 2014 and is at the top of his game right now. He's had a save percentage of at least .929 in seven of his past 10 starts and stopped 55 of 56 shots in winning Games 6 and 7 against the Bruins.

    Beating the Rangers would go a long way toward cementing him as the game's best goaltender.


    Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers

    There's not much of a difference between Lundqvist and Price at this stage of the playoffs.

    Lundqvist leads the league in save percentage at .931; Price is fourth at .926. Both carried their teams to comeback victories against higher-seeded teams in the second round, and when Price won gold in Sochi, Lundqvist had to settle for silver.

    But if there's one building that vexes Lundqvist, it's the Bell Centre, where his stats have been subpar

    The one edge Lundqvist may have is in experience. This is his second conference final in three years; the 32-year-old has appeared in 81 postseason games. This is Price's first conference final as a starter; the 26-year-old has appeared in 41 postseason games.

Biggest Mismatch: Rangers' Depth Forwards vs. Canadiens' Depth Defensemen

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    The Rangers' bottom-six forwards have thrived in the postseason; players on those lines have combined for 14 goals and 32 points in 14 games. If you want to count Daniel Carcillo among that group, although he has spent most of his time playing out of his role on a second line, add two more goals to that total.

    The Canadiens had most of their trouble when their lesser defensemen, namely any two of Douglas Murray, Mike Weaver, Nathan Beaulieu and Francis Bouillon, were on the ice against the Bruins. Michel Therrien should be tackled if he ices Murray at any point in this series, but with the Rangers rolling four lines, he won't be able to hide his bottom pairing.

    Everyone likes to focus on the stars, but it's this matchup that will have the most bearing on who wins this series.

The Rangers Will Win If Their Power Play Is Just Mediocre

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    The Bruins owned the Canadiens at five-on-five in the last round but were done in by two things: Carey Price and a power play that had just three goals in 18 opportunities. That's not a horrible percentage (16.7), but the Bruins didn't generate enough with the man advantage.

    The Rangers play a very similar puck-possession game to the Bruins, but their power play has been even worse in the postseason. It sits at 10.9 percent and went 3-of-26 against the Penguins last round, although a reason why the Rangers won that series was that they scored those three goals over the final three games of the series, all Rangers victories.

    The Rangers should be able to carry the five-on-five play against the Canadiens in a similar fashion to what the Bruins did. If their power play can just click at an average rate, the Rangers should be fine.

The Canadiens Will Win If Carey Price Outplays Henrik Lundqvist

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    When a big save needed to be made against the Bruins, Carey Price was there to do it more often than not. It wasn't as though Tuukka Rask played poorly, but Price made more difficult stops than his counterpart, a big reason for the Canadiens winning the series.

    Price will likely find himself in the same position against Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers.

    If Price has a repeat performance, the Canadiens will find themselves in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1993. If Price is only good—perhaps even very good won't be enough—there will be heartbreak in Montreal.

Prediction: Rangers in 6

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    This is a pretty even matchup with both teams entering this series off extreme highs, but the Rangers are just a little bit deeper than the Canadiens, and that will make the difference.

    It's not as though the Habs haven't gotten contributions from their lower lines—Dale Weise says hi—but the Rangers are far more dangerous in their bottom-six grouping and have a much better defense corps, although they don't have anyone who matches P.K. Subban's abilities.

    Carey Price can steal this series, but Henrik Lundqvist won't let him.