2017 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs Eastern Conference Semifinals Prospectus: New York Rangers vs. Ottawa Senators
New York Rangers (WC1) vs. Ottawa Senators (A3)
The Sens had a tough time with a shorthanded, but game Boston Bruins team in the first round. They were a bad penalty away from potentially being pushed to seven games with nearly a half dozen AHL players among the regular 18 skaters for Boston. This is not good. However, Ottawa made the plays they needed and buried power play goals when they most needed them, as they whiffed on most of their nearly two dozen chances with the man advantage in the series.
Craig Anderson was a brick wall early in the series, then began to misplay the puck and got fortunate officiating in Games 4 and 5 to either help his team win or keep them in it. Boston did not have much offence. New York is a different animal. Everyone on Ottawa must raise their games. Derick Brassard is a perennial playoff performer. Bobby Ryan has come alive after another lackluster offensive season in 2016-17. They will need more.
The Rangers found their game after one of the most pitiful and embarrassing efforts from the coach down to the players (minus Henrik Lundqvist) in Game 3 in the first round versus Montreal. They deserve the adulation for what they did in Games 4 through 6. They were the better, deeper and more skilled team, and it eventually showed.
Of note in that series, the Rangers defence (minus Nick Holden) was very good in front of Lundqvist. The centres all had mind-boggling gaffes on back checks that led to goals (Zibanejad with Plekanec, Stepan with the loaf on an odd man rush off a linesman, Hayes also). This cannot continue. Ottawa is nothing, if not crafty down low and off the break. Particularly with their vaunted 1-3-1 neutral zone trap. The Rangers just faced a good bit of similar principles against Montreal and cannot just throw away a game as they did in Game 3 (at home, no less) in the first round.
Henrik Lundqvist has regained his all-world form. If he continues this, Ottawa — which still struggled to score against Boston — will be in trouble. Once again, the Rangers are better, more skilled and deeper than Ottawa, and the defences are a wash (even with Erik Karlsson tipping the scales for Ottawa). And Karlsson’s got a busted foot. The (likely) cortisone shots that he takes before the games clearly wear off by the third period.
Mike Hoffman, Kyle Turris and Alex Burrows must contribute more for Ottawa. The Rangers got past Montreal with Derek Stepan, JT Miller and Chris Kreider having forgettable series. Stepan did score the final goal of the Montreal series, and Kreider did “assist” on Mika Zibanejad’s game-winning goal in Game 5, but Miller has been unfathomably invisible through one series. That cannot continue if the Rangers want to advance.
Rick Nash has some favorable matchups to continue crashing the net and creating rebound chances for his line mates. Jimmy Vesey is due for a goal. The Rangers’ 4th line is every bit as good as Washington’s, which is arguably the best in the NHL. Oscar Lindberg centers Jesper Fast and whoever Alain Vigneault uses on the the fourth line with him. “AV” is noted for juggling lines when they do not work. Make no mistake, while Tanner Glass played well in his role early in the series against Montreal, and was not a liability, the insertion of Pavel Buchnevich has given the Rangers extensive depth and scoring potential from every member on each line. That is dangerous.
The Rangers have the edge at goalie. This is without question. The Rangers have the skill, speed and depth advantage at forward. Collectively, the Rangers have a better and more battle-tested defence, even if Holden is still a massive liability in his own zone. Dan Girardi and Marc Staal stepped up their games, while Ryan McDonagh, Brady Skjei and Brendan Smith were magnificent against Montreal.
Games are not played on paper, and puck luck, timeliness of power play goals and penalty kills can swing a game and a series on the whole. We’ll take the Rangers, albeit not extremely confidently, because they have maddening inconsistencies in their play which makes series difficult to predict. The Sens simply do not have enough with their bottom six to mask what the Rangers have with their bottom six. Particularly if Hayes (who was dominant in Games 5 and 6), Miller and Michael Grabner finally break through, which had been expected to be a pivotal line versus Montreal.
Call: NEW YORK IN 5.