STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS
NEW YORK RANGERS
NEW YORK RANGERS - Blueshirts Face Huge First Round Challenge Versus Old Rivals.
Here we go again. For the fourth time in five years, the Blueshirts will face off against the Washington Capitals in Lord Stanley's tournament. The Caps won the first two battles of 2008-2009, and 2010-2011, before bowing to the Rangers in game seven last season of the second round. So if I may, the rivalry is renewed.
Since his hiring in February of 2009, John Tortorella has been a constant behind the Rangers bench, while the Caps are on their third ice master. Former coach Bruce Boudreau famously created frigid atmospheres upon his visits to Madison Square Garden. The man was never short for words and usually preceded his visits with a riff of amusing zingers. But trying to tame the wild born ice devil, Alex Ovechkin, ultimately got him fired. Dale Hunter took his chances against Torts' Rangers last season, and damn nearly pulled off a seven game series win. But Hunter stepped down and in came no nonsense Adam Oates. I have a lot of respect for Oates, especially as a former player. To close out the regular season, he had his team playing their best hockey of the season, and not incidentally, were among the top two hottest NHL teams down the stretch. I do not imaging Adam Oates losing his bench composure unlike John Tortorella can, and in the playoffs, has. Adam Oates brings a brand new dynamic to this post-season rivalry. Tortorella needs to be at his chessboard best and think less of - may the better grunt win.
The Rangers were methodically inconsistent regarding their abbreviated regular season, while the Caps were a first half/second half, Jekyll and Hyde team. In the end, they posted near identical records. We can forget all that now. Alex Ovechkin played rejuvenated hockey under Coach Oates' new (old) system and went on to lead the NHL in goals with thirty-two. The Rangers new stud import, Rick Nash, scored twenty-one goals in his first season with the Blueshirts. Ovechkin has been through this match-up several times before. Nash has not. But Brad Richards has.
It's hard to tell which Brad Richards will show up, and what contributions some of the newer Rangers will make. I still say it is incumbent upon Ryan Callahan to lead Derek Stepan, Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh, Carl Hagelin, Matts Zuccarello, Stu Bickel, Brian Boyle, and all the other Rangers who've been together, to lead the charge. Granted, it will be harder to do without Marc Staal. Of the new guys, Derick Brassard stands to have the most impact heading into Round One. Brian Boyle's and Ryane Clowe's injury status are still questionable. Perhaps Tyler Pyatt has something extra in his game for the playoffs.
I'm interested to see what purpose players Coach Torts suits up this evening. Will he over-prepare heading into Game One? Or, react after Game Two? In any event, I guess we're left with Aaron Asham fighting the majority of our battles. I find that troublesome.
At 26.2%, the Washington had the regular season's best power play in all the NHL, but were 27th on the penalty kill. The Rangers were 11th on the PK, with an 81.1% kill rate, but only 23rd overall on the power play with a 15.7% mark. Washington was 4th overall in goals scored, while the Rangers rated 15th in the league. Defensively, the Blueshirts were the 4th stingiest team, while the Caps were 18th. Picking up where they left off last year, slightly different styles will meet up somewhere in the middle, and turn this series into a grind. What else....
Washington looks to be a better team than last year's version, while the Rangers are clearly different, and not as good. Or, not yet. Maybe it took forty-eight games to finally get things clicking correctly off Broadway. We'll see.
Young goalie Braden Holtby should be no stranger to Rangers fans. He matched Henrik Lundqvist save for save in last year's playoff. Holtby stymied the Rangers, and nearly stole the series. This season he posted a 2.38 GAA in thirty-five starts, to go along with a .920 save percentage. The Rangers liege posted a 2.03 GAA in forty-three starts, with a .926 save percentage.
That's it. Let the games begin.