It’s a pretty obvious statement to make but the Rangers’ top defensive pair of Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi are critical to the Rangers hopes of progressing to the Conference finals and beyond. Dan Girardi and, particularly Ryan McDonagh, have been inconsistent in this series but a dominant performance from both – in addition to the assumed performance from Henrik Lundqvist – would go a long way in helping the Rangers clinch in Pittsburgh tonight.
The Rangers live and die by their defensive core. McDonagh was a plus one and logged over 26 minutes in the emotional game six victory Sunday and had a goal and assist and almost 27 minutes of ice time in game five. The result? Two huge victories and another game seven for the Rangers to look forward to.
The Rangers are a much tougher proposition when their top pair are on their games and following an indifferent start to the playoffs, McDonagh’s form is trending in the right direction. It has to continue tonight if the Rangers want success. This team can invest in as many offensive players as it wants but their success will always begin and end with players #30, #5 and #27.
McDonagh in particular has the ability to impact the Rangers in so many ways; it’s why he is a Norris Trophy candidate. When he is on, he is shutting down the opposition, producing on both special teams units and helping make Henrik Lundqvist’s life much easier.
The Rangers can expect to face a lot of pressure tonight, especially given the Penguins relative dominance in the face-off circle, so McDonagh and Girardi’s ability to continue to frustrate Sidney Crosby and minimalize the impact of Evgeni Malkin is series defining. Henrik Lundqvist advantage in net has been series saving.
The Rangers have survived without meaningful offensive production from Rick Nash, with a very hit and miss Derek Stepan and an inconsistent Marty St Louis to name a few, but it’s on the blueline and in goal where the Rangers have the advantage. The two units help each other.
When Lundqvist is at his best it allows the defense to play with more freedom, more confidence and gives the team a margin of error while when McDonagh and Girardi are on form Lundqvist isn’t as busy (or so the theory goes). The Rangers have received impressive postseason performances from the likes of Kevin Klein, Marc Staal and Anton Stralman so when their top pair are at the peak of their powers the Rangers have a great chance of success.
If Girardi and/or McDonagh have bad games tonight it could very well be the difference between a Conference Final or the end of the season . The Rangers won’t win the Cup because of their offense but they could go a long way this postseason because of their top defensive pair and their Vezina winning goaltender. It starts – or ends – tonight.