Chris is unavailable to do the musings today, so you’re all stuck with me. The Rangers have had four days off between the last game of the season and the first game of the playoffs, and we’ve been getting a little antsy for some hockey. It’s actually a little funny that the Rangers got four days off in a row, as the schedule seems to never favor them at all. This time around it did, and it gave Marc Staal, Ryane Clowe, and Brian Boyle more time to get healthy.
Speaking of Staal, I know he and the Rangers said he isn’t playing tonight. But let’s look at it this way: He’s been skating with the team for over a week now, he’s been taking regular practices with the team, he’s been skating with the assumed Alex Ovechkin shadowers (note: Dan Girardi). The last time they were this far along with Staal was the Winter Classic, and Staal played that game. I think Staal plays, but the Rangers don’t announce it until warm ups so that the Caps can’t game plan for it. This is complete speculation on my part, but I think Staal is just itching to come back, and he’s an important cog in shutting down Ovechkin.
As for Boyle and Clowe, it’s unfortunate that these two didn’t skate at all during the four day break. We all were hoping that they would at least get back on the ice and maybe return soon. Neither have skated, so I’m going to venture a guess and say they don’t play this round. That is truly unfortunate, as the Rangers need both of them back. Boyle is a critical part of the penalty kill, one aspect that could really sway this series. Clowe provides more depth, which is something I discussed this morning that the Caps might have trouble matching up.
Speaking of injuries, the Caps are going to get Joel Ward back from injury tonight, so that helps them by taking Aaron Volpatti out of the lineup. Ward will slide into a third line role, moving Jason Chimera to the fourth line. That bottom six is very good defensively, and should help with the matchup problems discussed this morning. Ward coming back is as important to the Caps as Clowe is to the Rangers.
The first day of the playoffs sure was something. Two overtime games, one epic gaffe by Jonathan Quick, and a marvelous performance by Masterton shoo-in Josh Harding. Then yesterday was the most anti-climactic day of the playoffs, as the Bruins and Penguins dominated, and the Sharks managed to steal home ice from Vancouver. The first round is going to be interesting. Only two or three series are truly one-sided.
One series, aside from the Rangers of course, that I’m anxious to see is Montreal/Ottawa. Montreal’s underlying stats show that they would have major regression over a full 82 game schedule, but they still won the division. Ottawa overcame injuries to, well, everyone. If Ottawa wins, they get Pittsburgh in the next round, and the winner of the Rangers/Caps series gets Boston or Toronto. Don’t think for a minute that isn’t possible.
Game time is 7:30pm tonight. Are you ready for some playoff hockey?