The Hartford Wolf Pack squeezed into the second round of the AHL playoffs Friday night with a come from behind 3-2 victory over Providence. Thanks to the overtime win, Hartford won the series 3-2 after being 2-1 down and having struggled to solve the Bruins’ goaltending almost all series.
Defenseman Tommy Hughes scored the series clinching goal just over four minutes into overtime after Chris Mueller’s second powerplay goal of the game tied it with under a minute to play in the third period. Oscar Lindberg, who had struggled to produce offense all series, came up huge in the series decider as he assisted on all three WolfPack goals. The assists were his first points in a series where each game was decided by one goal. Lindberg also had seven shots on net as he made a real impression on the game.
Apart from Lindberg, who continues to grow into a solid Rangers prospect, other prospects of note included Brady Skjei who put four shots on net and Chris Bourque (who can’t really be counted as a prospect but I digress) who grabbed two assists including on the game winner. McKenzie Skapski was back on the bench for Hartford. The ‘Pack will play Wilkes- Barre/Scranton, the Pens affiliate in the next round. The Baby Pens swept their opening round series against Syracuse.
How the Pack’s progress into the second round influences the Rangers’ decision to call up a forward is yet to be seen and may depend on the scheduling of the AHL’s second round. Here’s a GIF of the OT winner, courtesy of Adam Herman.
Tonight old foes reunite. The New York Rangers and Washington Capitals have seen a lot of each other in recent years as this will be the fifth time since 2009 the teams face off in postseason play. The Rangers welcome the Caps to the Garden well rested, but with plenty of question marks thanks to an indifferent powerplay, key players underperforming, injuries, and players returning from injury. We’ll get to the Rangers in a moment. Let’s take a look at the Capitals.
Capitals at a glance
We know what the Capitals are and what they do. The Capitals are a big team with immense top end skill and are a team who look to punish you physically. Forget about Alex Ovechkin and Nick Backstrom for a moment (if that’s possible). The Capitals will try to outmuscle the Rangers with the likes of Joel Ward, Jason Chimera, Tom Wilson, and Troy Brouwer.
If you include Ovechkin, the Capitals have six players up front who stand 6-2 and above who all weigh in over 215 lbs. That’s not even accounting for guys such as Brooks Orpik and Tim Gleason on the blueline, both of whom love the physical stuff. While the Rangers can more than hold their own physically and along the boards, this isn’t the type of series they’ll want to play.
The Capitals enter the series with better possession numbers to the Rangers (52.0% against the Rangers 50.2%, even strength and score adjusted), similar shooting percentages (8.8% against 8.1% at even strength) but –for those of you that place significant worth in the statistic– are a much better team in the faceoff circle, leading the playoffs with a 56% success rate. It goes without saying that if the Rangers spend a lot of time in the penalty box, the Capitals faceoff skills combined with their (regular season) league-leading powerplay will make them pay.
For those of you not on Twitter, at today’s practice, the Rangers hosted college standout goalie (and free agent) Matt O’Connor as he concludes his tour of teams in the running to sign him. Boston University’s starting goalie in the Frozen Four, O’Connor has whittled down his final choice to one of the Rangers, Edmonton, Vancouver and Ottawa and is expected to make a decision as early as next week.
On the face of things the Rangers appear to be a strange option for O’Connor as the Rangers are stacked at his position most notably with an all world goaltender in Henrik Lundqvist not going anywhere anytime soon. This week however, O’Connor announced that the team he signs with doesn’t necessarily have to be offering an immediate NHL gig which gives the Rangers a better chance of signing the goalie. Back in March some media reports had suggested some teams had offered O’Connor an immediate NHL spot, something that the Rangers would probably not be offering even if Cam Talbot departs.
With the Rangers no doubt enjoying watching the Capitals and Islanders beat each other up in a seven game marathon while benefiting from some rare down time to get healthy, let’s think about the line-up’s round one performance and look at a few statistics as the Rangers look to move deep into the post-season.
- The Rangers defense played well against the Capitals but Marc Staal in particular can be better. What’s promising is that despite the unit’s collective, solid performance everyone (maybe Girardi aside) can realistically elevate their games.
- Stating the obvious: a healthy Keith Yandle will be a much more dangerous Keith Yandle. If Yandle is 100% entering round two – and Kevin Klein returns – the Rangers will have a big advantage on the blueline against either potential opponent.
- Dan Girardi was by far the Rangers best defenseman over the five game series. He also wasn’t overused which will surely paid dividends later in the playoffs.
- Klein will surely enter the line-up for round two, game one given that he has at least another four days of rest. Klein will give the Rangers another dangerous shot from the blueline. Who will Klein be paired with?
- Henrik Lundqvist career GAA: 2.26, career save %: .921. In the playoffs he sports 2.21 and .923 numbers. Lundqvist was incredibly poised in the first round. He was exceptional with traffic and his rebound control was very good. He’s locked in.
Carl Hagelin, playoff hero. Carl Hagelin’s legend grew a little bit more Friday night as the Rangers speed skating Swede scored the overtime, series winner against the Pens. It’s probably not the time to look too far ahead (but instead, revel in the Penguins season ending early) however particularly Hagelin’s form will mean a series of difficult decisions are looming for Glen Sather this summer.
Luckily for Sather, these difficult decisions are the kind of problems a general manager wants. Hagelin’s strong, consistent regular season and yet more postseason success means Hagelin’s in line for a nice pay rise this summer. Hagelin has 24 points as a Ranger and 21 in his last 42 games – thus averaging a point every other game since his first playoff run in ’11/12 when he had 3 points in 17 games in a depth role.
Hagelin has grown tremendously as a player since breaking into the Rangers line-up and is a player that embodies this team’s speed orientated game. Although some people speculated Hagelin could have been the odd one out this summer – given the cap issues that the Rangers could face – barring obscene salary demands there is no way Hagelin goes anywhere. He’s quickly making himself indispensible to the line-up.
It’s that horrible day, the one between games but the Rangers are heading into Friday with a 3-1 series lead. Life can’t get much sweeter as a Rangers fan right now. Let’s throw up a few random thoughts on Rangers goings on.
It appears Rick Nash will always divide opinion. Has Nash been dominant? No he hasn’t but he’s been damn good. Not just putting points up but always involved in the offense, Nash also continues to be one of the most defensively responsible ‘superstars’ in the game. Give me that kind of team first goal scorer any day. Star players on successful teams buy into a team first approach. The Red Wings of recent years always had superstars who could play a good two way game. That’s why they are always a contender. That’s what the Rangers have in Nash.
Understatement of the week: Derick Brassard’s new contract continues to look like a bargain. He has 21 points in 21 games against the Penguins. He has three goals in 4 playoff games. Brassard’s maturation into a quality, consistent center is complete. His enthusiasm for goals is infectious. Kudos to Glen Sather for taking a calculated risk by committing to Brassard for the long term.
If you want to explain to someone what Keith Yandle is all about, ask them to watch the Carl Hagelin breakaway goal from game three of the Rangers Pens playoff series, on Monday. Yandle’s pass to set up the goal was pin-point, crisp and defense splitting. Yandle’s pass was perfectly placed allowing Hagelin to race through on to Marc Andre Fleury and open the scoring. That’s what Yandle does and that’s what he has been doing increasingly as a Ranger, ever since Glen Sather made the bold trade to acquire the highly talented offensive defenseman.
Yandle has fit in well with the Rangers even if there was an initial adjustment period. Yandle started relatively slowly when he arrived in New York but that was to be expected. Coming from the hockey outpost that is Arizona and playing in a much different (and less speed orientated) system even the most talented players take time to adjust but adjust Yandle has.
Kevin Hayes has not hit the college rookie wall. Let’s clear that up straight away. To suggest that’s happened to Hayes – after just two subpar performances – would be a combination of lazy journalism and a kneejerk reaction. It’s just two games.
Hayes has struggled in the opening round thus far, not producing offensively and making bad decisions at both ends of the ice but Hayes is a rookie who is learning that the playoffs are a different season compared to the marathon that is the regular season.
Hayes was arguably the Rangers’ best forward over the last six weeks of the regular season and his elevated play helped accommodate Rick Nash’s cold stretch as well as the injuries the Rangers endured. What the big center is finding out now is that the intensity of the playoffs is unlike anything he has ever experienced. Right now, Hayes is going through another learning curve, just like he did last October.
Playoff hockey begins (for real) today. Forget about Wednesday, we’re all waiting for today and the Pens vs. Rangers series opener. Let’s have a muse to kick the playoffs off shall we?
Is it me or have an unusually high amount of teams got serious injury headaches this spring? The Rangers can consider themselves relatively lucky that they will enter the Pens series ‘only’ missing Kevin Klein. You look at an offensively shallow Montreal Canadiens squad missing their top scorer (Pacioretty) or the Penguins who are practically missing an entire D. The Rangers enter the playoffs healthy and that’s a huge bonus.
Player I’m rooting for: Martin St Louis. Has had a lot of criticism this year (some of it deservedly). He could be a huge difference maker for the Rangers.
There has been a lot of the pre-series talk on Rick Nash needing to score in the playoffs, stopping Sidney Crosby, and even the injuries on both sides approaching Thursday’s opening game. But not much talk has been made about which individual player the Rangers will need to step up in order to beat a depleted yet still incredibly talented Penguins side.
On talent alone, the Pens are the worst eighth seed there could be. Any team that boasts Crosby, Malkin and co. are uber-talented even without Kris Letang, Christian Ehrhoff, Olli Maata, and Pascal Dupuis. One position the Pens don’t have to worry about amid their injury crisis is center. To call them stacked is an understatement. Crosby is still the best in the game, while Malkin isn’t far behind even if he flits between center and wing.
Behind the two all world talents the Pens replaced a Staal with a Sutter, namely Brandon Sutter. Sutter quietly scored 21 goals this season (including the two playoff clinchers on the weekend) and wins more faceoffs than he loses. He’s a big body who can play both ends and against most teams gives the Pens an edge in depth at center. Enter Kevin Hayes.