The NHL playoffs have treated fans to an unbelievable amount of quality hockey in 2014. The new playoff format has featured an incredible six different series going to Game 7, and we aren't even close to catching a glimpse of Stanley Cup silver.
There truly is no rest for the weary, as the Eastern Conference Final features two teams coming off exhausting seven-game series.
The Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers are here by virtue of knocking off the top two seeds in the Eastern Conference. The Canadiens upset the Boston Bruins in a seven-game thriller while the New York Rangers won three games in a row to overtake the Pittsburgh Penguins and earn the right to play Montreal.
Let's take a look at a series preview and predict how this Original Six series will play out.
Series Preview and Prediction
The series will truly be decided by the play of each team's stellar netminder—Carey Price for the Canadiens and Henrik Lundqvist for the Rangers.
Lundqvist has been arguably the best shot-stopper in the playoffs so far with a .931 save percentage and a 1.99 goals-against average.
However, the Swede hasn't played a game in Montreal since January 2012, and when he has suited up, it hasn't been pretty. He has a 3.87 GAA and .876 save percentage at the Bell Centre, as per Katie Strang of ESPN.com.
With a Stanley Cup Final appearance on the line, the stakes would hopefully wash away any apprehension. Backup goalie Cam Talbot described Lundqvist's insatiable desire to win, via Allan Kreda of The New York Times:
Which team will win the Eastern Conference?
"You don’t get to the level Hank is at without being competitive, without being the hardest worker,” Talbot said. “Hank absolutely hates losing. You can see the fire in his eyes. That alone drives him to be better."
Lundqvist has also proven to be something of a Game 7 specialist, winning five straight such contests. This series will surely ask him to face those stakes again.
He will have to work hard to stop the Habs offense, which is averaging a league-best 3.27 goals per game so far in the playoffs.
P.K. Subban played an excellent series against the Boston Bruins and has spearheaded the Canadiens attack. He ranks sixth in the playoffs with 12 points. He has become a lightning-rod figure in the NHL and will look to continue his strong performances against the Rangers. Subban relayed his strong-mindedness to Nick Cotsonika of Yahoo Sports:
Subban: "I really don’t care what the other team thinks. I don’t care what their fans think. If they hate me, great. Hate me." (1)— Nick Cotsonika (@cotsonika) May 15, 2014
Subban, cont.: "We’ll just keep winning, I’ll keep scoring and we’ll move on." (2)— Nick Cotsonika (@cotsonika) May 15, 2014
Forwards Lars Eller and Brendan Gallagher will have to continue supporting Subban. They've each chipped in four goals in the playoffs so far, boosting an offense that was ranked just 21st overall in the regular season.
Unfortunately for the Rangers, Price absolutely loves to shut down New York's attack and may be even better equipped than Lundqvist to take control in this series. ESPN Stats & Info captures his dominance in statistical form:
Canadiens goalie Carey Price is 4-1 with 3 shutouts in last 5 games against the Rangers. He's stopped 149 of 151 shots in those 5 games— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 15, 2014
Price will face an array of shots from every forward spot. The Rangers possess a very balanced scoring attack.
Wingers Benoit Pouliot and Mats Zuccarello have been especially effective in the postseason with eight points apiece. Center Brad Richards is tied for the team lead with four goals and is fifth in the league with 47 total shots so far.
Derick Brassard leads the regulars on the team with a 14.8 shooting percentage in the playoffs, good for four goals himself.
This series will be a close contest all the way through, but look for the Canadiens to surprise many observers by dismantling Lundqvist's streak of Game 7 victories and move on to the Stanley Cup Final.
Prediction: Canadiens win series in Game 7