Another great guest posting from Dave Thomas. Enjoy.
Will the Rangers Choke or Send the Sens Packing?
While the New York Rangers were not able to secure the President’s Trophy and the overall top seed in this year’s NHL playoffs (Vancouver), they are the frontrunners in the Eastern Conference.
That being said, will this Rangers squad live up to its billing as the big dog in the East or will they go out with a whimper and disappoint their throngs of fans like last season’s 4-1 quarterfinal loss to Washington? Remember, New York has not moved past the second round of the playoffs in more than ten years.
Beginning Thursday evening at venerable Madison Square Garden, the Rangers will host the eighth-seeded Ottawa Senators, a tale of two teams that by far exceeded the expectations of their respective fan bases entering the season.
While hopes were high for the Rangers coming into the season, many experts likely had defending champ Boston, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and maybe even New Jersey slated to finish ahead of the red and blue. All the Rangers went out and did was compile 109 points, win the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference titles, and put a goalie on the ice in Henrik Lundqvist who is a very strong candidate to win the Vezina Trophy.
Ottawa, meantime, was a disaster a season ago, but got a resilient effort from Captain Daniel Alfredsson as he approaches the age of 40, with the most famous Senator tallying 27 goals on the season. The Sens, who have an explosive offense to keep Lundqvist busy over the next week or so, finished second in the Northeast Division behind the Bruins.
So, will this series be one that the heavily favored Rangers win handily or will the Sens make New York work for everything it gets?
In looking at the season series, Ottawa took 3-of-4 contests from the Rangers, but we all know that what happened then and what happens now are two entirely different things.
For Ottawa to have any chance in this series, it will more than likely need to steal one of the first two games on the road in order to go back north of the border with some momentum.
The Sens have a number of youngsters that will see ample time in the series, so guys like Alfredsson, Milan Michalek (team-high 35 goals), Jason Spezza (34 goals, 84 points) and goalie Craig Anderson (33 wins this season) will need to lead the way so that some other players are not forced to do more than what they are capable of on the big stage.
Turning to Broadway, this is a loaded Rangers team that on paper should be opening the Eastern Conference Finals at home in a couple of weeks. But again, titles are not won on paper.
Along with Lundqvist leading the way, New York will turn to guys like Marian Gaborik (41 goals on the season), Brad Richards (41 assists) and defenders Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh to push the team into the second round. When Ottawa gets on the power play, it will go against a Rangers’ squad that finished fifth overall on the penalty kill this season.
Going into the final week of play, it looked more likely that the Rangers would actually be meeting either Washington or Buffalo in the opening round. Ottawa, however, began to dip a tad, while the Capitals ironically handily beat the Rangers 4-1 in their season finale to move into the seventh spot, thus avoiding a meeting with New York.
While I expect Ottawa to not be a pushover by any means, I just don’t see the Sens getting the better of the Rangers, especially with a fiery John Tortorella behind the bench in New York.
Look for Game 1 to be the key to how this series goes.
If Ottawa is competitive and maybe even sneaks away with a victory, New York and its faithful will be in for a long series. A decisive Rangers victory, however, and some doubt may begin to slip into the minds of the Sens and their fans.
Dave’s prediction – Rangers in 5.
All times are Eastern. * – if necessary
Thursday April 12 in New York @ 7 p.m. (NHL Network, CBC)
Saturday April 14 in New York @ 7 p.m. (NBC Sports Network, CBC)
Monday April 16 in Ottawa @ 7:30 p.m. (CNBC, CBC)
Wednesday April 18 in Ottawa @ 7:30 p.m. (CNBC, CBC)
*Saturday April 21 in New York @ 7 p.m. (NBC Sports Network, CBC)
*Monday April 23 in Ottawa @ TBD (TBD)
*Thursday April 26 in New York @ TBD (TBD)