With the first round of the playoffs beginning tomorrow, the Rangers will be in a very exciting series against the Washington Alexanders. On paper, this looks like a laugher, and the Ovechkins should run over our beloved Blueshirts. The Rangers have one huge advantage, with Hank in net, but for the Rangers to win, they will need to win a few key matchups, and get a few breaks as well.
Henrik Lundqvist vs. Jose Theodore. Hank needs to still at least one game for the Rangers, and he needs to do it in D.C. This is the biggest advantage the Rangers have. Hank is a top-5 goalie in the NHL, and Theodore is an aging, mediocre goalie. The Blueshirts must pepper Theodore with a ton of shots and crash the net, he will let in goals and give up rebounds. I think that if the Rangers can get 3 goals a game, with Hank on his game, they should win this series.
NYR Penalty Kill vs. Caps’ PP:
Along with the goaltending matchup, this is another huge key to victory for the Rangers. They have the best penalty killing in the NHL (88%, which is absurd). They will need to kill penalties at that pace, and maybe even better, against one of the top PPs around. Any PP that sports Ovechkin/Green at the point with Backstrom/Semin up front is a formidable one, and it will be tough to shut down. This is another no-brainer, Betts/Sjostrom will need to be at their very best. The Caps’ top PP unit will be out there for the first minute, so if they survive that, I have a strong feeling the PK will be very successful. It also helps if they can stay out of the box.
Staal/Girardi vs. Ovechkin:
It is impossible to shut down Alex Ovechkin, so you can’t expect that of the young defense pairing. What you can hope for though, is for them to contain AO, limiting his shots to the outside at even strength. There will be times when AO burns pretty much all 5 Rangers on the ice, and Hank, but hey, he’s the best player in the game (and one of my favorite to watch actually), so you have to expect this. With AO getting close to 30 minutes of ice time, expect Staal to see the same amount of time. Let’s hope the young D is up to the task.
John Tortorella has a Stanley Cup on his resume. Bruce Boudreau does not, but he has a Calder Cup under his belt with the Hershey Bears. This edge goes to the Rangers, and Tortorella can’t let himself be out coached. This means matching lines at home, and getting a quick change, when possible, to match up lines on the road. It also means making those slight adjustments during the game that make all the difference. It’s a tough task matching up lines and making adjustments against AO, but this is another key.
But Dave, don’t you mean secondary scoring? No, I don’t. The Rangers have a enough secondary scoring (Avery, Dubinsky, Callahan), but they will need the likes of Drury/Gomez/Antropov/Zherdev to provide the primary scoring. This is a bit backwards, as most teams look for secondary scoring (see: Pittsburgh), but hey, it is what it is. They will need big time performances from the aforementioned players.
Building on Momentum:
The Rangers are riding a three-game winning streak to end the season, against three playoff teams. The Caps lost their last game of the season, allowing 7 goals to Florida. The Rangers will need to continue their solid play and build on this momentum.
Taking One of the First Two:
This is probably the most important thing the Rangers can do. They will need to make a statement by splitting the opening games in D.C. If they fall to 0-2, they are done.
Game 1 is Wednesday. God I love playoff hockey.