New York’s group of forwards is surely better than 12th-best in the playoff field, but you can throw the team’s gaudy offensive stats out the window heading into this series.
The great equalizer, as the Blueshirts well know, is goaltending and Carey Price has been locked in for the last several weeks after an inauspicious start to the season.
So though this matchup is probably where New York should enjoy its biggest edge over Montreal, it would be foolish to expect the Blueshirts to simply outgun the Canadiens.
And in fact, that supposed advantage might not be quite as significant as it looks on paper. Though the Rangers racked up 30 more goals than the Canadiens this season, New York only scored five more goals than Montreal at even strength following the All-Star break. The Canadiens are also a far superior possession team and should have seen better results this season.
From a personnel standpoint, the Habs’ attackers are in a period of transition. Long-time top center Tomas Plekanec has hit the skids and is slowly being phased out, but this hasn’t become Alex Galchenyuk’s team as expected. In fact, it appears that Montreal will open with Galchenyuk on its fourth line.
The biggest change for the Habs has been through the addition of creative playmaker Alex Radulov, who, along with relatively anonymous newcomer Phillip Danault, has teamed up with the wildly underrated Max Pacioretty to form a solid top trio.
And while Chris Kreider will draw the media attention for past injustices in the Montreal crease, the tables might be turned this time around with super pests Brendan Gallagher and Andrew Shaw buzzing around The King’s throne. No doubt those gnats will make life miserable for Henrik Lundqvist and the Blueshirts’ defense will have its hands full dealing with them and the jumbos Montreal imported at the trade deadline.
Gallagher or Shaw could definitely tilt the series, but the real X-factor might be the guy that’s had the hot hand all season – Paul Byron. The 27-year-old speedster was the only player in the league that managed to pot 20 goals on fewer than 100 shots. Under the radar rookie Artturi Lehkonen is another dark horse.
The Rangers should in theory be able to skate circles around Montreal and it’s pretty obvious they’re the more talented bunch, but the contrasting styles should make for an interesting battle.