4 X-Factors in New York Rangers' NHL Playoff Series vs. Canadiens
Despite the New York Rangers’ ability to fight back from a 3-1 deficit over the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round, you’d be hard-pressed to find many who believed the Blueshirts would take both Games 1 and 2 in Montreal to begin the Eastern Conference Final.
That being said, the Rangers deserve it. They were the more prepared team heading into Game 1, and it showed, big time, as New York brushed off the Habs, 7-2.
In Game 2, while the Rangers weren’t as good—although I think they played better than most in the media have given them credit for—Henrik Lundqvist dominated and completely shut the door on Montreal in a 40-save effort that left the likes of P.K. Subban frustrated.
The Rangers return to New York up two games and face an opponent whose star goaltender and best player is unavailable. It’s in the bag, right?
There’s a lot of work to do, so fans should put a hold on their parade plans and celebrations because Montreal is a good hockey team. As the Blueshirt faithful should know, anything is possible in a seven-game series.
There are four factors that will win or lose this series for the Rangers. The way they’re currently playing, there’s little reason to believe they won’t be able to make these forces work in their favor, but the games are played for a reason.
Here are the four X-factors for the Rangers in the Eastern Conference Final.
Coming into the series, Montreal was 10-of-38 on power plays in the playoffs, firing at 26 percent efficiency. That ratio would have been the best in the league during the regular season.
But the Rangers have stifled the Habs’ overpowering unit, killing off Montreal’s initial seven man-power advantages. Going back to the series with the Penguins, the Rangers have killed off their last 21 penalties and have gone seven straight games without allowing a power-play goal.
Staving off the Canadiens’ power-play unit has brought the Rangers great success thus far, but it needs to continue. Sure, the Rangers went through a monumental struggle on the power play over the course of their series with Pittsburgh and Philadelphia and still have been successful, but the Rangers as a whole are deeper than Montreal and as a result see more scoring up and down the lineup. Furthermore, we’ve seen the Rangers find other ways to score and break through. We haven’t seen much of that from Montreal in this series and these playoffs.
The point here is this: If New York can shut down Montreal’s power play for the rest of the series, the team should advance. I can’t see the Habs outworking the Rangers or scoring enough even-strength goals against Lundqvist to outscore the Blueshirts, who are still facing a rookie goaltender.
Montreal is a quick, offensive-minded hockey club, but in truth, nobody on its forward depth chart scares me other than Thomas Vanek and Max Pacioretty.
The two are amongst the purest goal scorers in the league. Vanek has scored more than 30 goals four times in his career and more than 40 goals twice, while Pacioretty, who broke the 30-goal barrier for the second time in his seven-year career, finished the regular season fourth in goals with 39.
They have combined for nine goals in this postseason, which are as much as Marian Gaborik of Los Angeles has on his own. Nevertheless, nine isn’t bad, but if they’re to lead their side to victory against New York, they’re probably going to have pot a combined six goals over the remainder of this series.
Despite the pair’s stature, the task is not easy. Lundqvist is playing out of his mind, and the defense has done an excellent job of keeping the Habs to the outside while also jumping on loose pucks in the defensive zone.
If the Rangers continue their strong defensive play and Lundqvist continues to engage beast mode, Vanek and Pacioretty will have a minimal impact on the outcome of the series. The foursome of Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi, Marc Staal and Lundqvist is just too good.
As long as their play doesn't dip, the Rangers will advance.
Say what you will of Jonathan Toews, but Lundqvist has been the best player in these 2014 NHL playoffs, and that’s the end of it.
The Rangers have played good hockey, but Lundqvist won Game 7 against Pittsburgh literally on his own. The Swede is cold as ice, and if the Rangers are to taste the chalice of Lord Stanley’s cup, Lundqvist will have to continue his stellar play.
His current 1.93 goals-against average and .934 save percentage are better than any single-season numbers he’s ever put up in his nine NHL seasons.
Lundqvist has allowed just six goals in the last five games—all which were victories for the Rangers. Three goals have been allowed through in the first two games of this current series, and one could argue they were all pretty lucky for the Habs.
Rene Bourque’s goal in Game 1 came after a missed too-many-men penalty. The puck also tipped off a Rangers defenseman. Lars Eller’s goal was a prayer attempt at the net, and Pacioretty’s in Game 2 went in off the winger’s shin.
They were all pretty lucky, but just don’t tell that to Subban. He thinks "The King" is the one who’s been lucky.
Attribute the Rangers’ recent success to the fact that Marty St. Louis’ mother passed away prior to Game 5 against Pittsburgh if you want, but this team knew it had to be better after Games 2, 3 and 4, which were amongst their worst performances of the season.
In an interview with Michael Kay on ESPN New York on Tuesday afternoon, forward Brian Boyle relayed that the Rangers knew they had to be better and knew they could. The players picked themselves up in the wake of the mess they made, even though the death of a teammate’s mother factored into inspiring the recent play.
They’re a focused and driven bunch who seems to have only one thing on their mind: winning the next game. That doesn’t mean they don’t think about the Stanley Cup, but they understand the journey and the process. They can’t lose sight of that for even one game.
This is important, because people in the New York area are getting excited. Nobody foresaw a run of this magnitude, but it’s being welcomed. Fans have the Rangers in the Stanley Cup Final and eventually parading the Cup down Seventh Avenue.
But that’s what fans do. Players cannot afford to do so. One period, one game and one series at a time. You just hope you've got enough in the tank to be able to realize everything you’ve ever wanted when it’s over.
The focus, drive and desire to win are more important than anything else, and the Rangers have them all. They just have to stick to the basics.
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