In what is slated to be a series headlined by elite goaltending, the Montreal Canadiens will take on the New York Rangers in the first round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Despite putting up a strong 102-point season, the Rangers were boxed out of a top three finish in highly-talented Metropolitan Division and finished with the first Wild Card spot. Facing them is the Atlantic Division-winning Montreal Canadiens who bested the Rangers’ point total by one. However, New York is probably happy to sacrifice home-ice advantage to finish outside of the Metro. A series win against Montreal would lead to an even easier second round opponent with the winner of the Ottawa Senators and Boston Bruins best-of-seven waiting for Blue Shirts.
The Rangers had the edge in the latest of playoff meetings between these two teams, defeating the Habs in six games during the 2014 Eastern Conference Final. However, the Canadiens won all three regular season matchups this year and will be looking for revenge three years removed from being denied a shot at the Cup, this time, with their top goaltender in net.
Canadiens fans will quickly remember how a collision with Rangers forward Chris Kreider in Game 1 of the 2014 Eastern Conference Final sidelined Carey Price for the rest of the series. Interestingly enough, it’s Kreider who led New York in goals this season with 28 and will be a huge factor in the series once again. Meanwhile, Rangers netminder Henrik Lundqvist has struggled to find consistency against the Canadiens, posting a collective 14-17-3 against the team in all regular season matchups.
Outside of goal, the similarities between the two teams end. The Rangers feature a deep offense as head coach Alain Vigneault relies on three balanced lines to put the puck in the back of the net. However, the Rangers lack a strong defensive presence beyond Ryan McDonagh who has just returned from injury.
On the blue line is where the Canadiens are at their strongest, featuring a shutdown pair of Shea Weber and Andrei Markov. Under head coach Claude Julien, the Canadiens are allowing half a goal fewer per game than they were under Michel Therrien. Furthermore, the Canadiens went from being the most-penalized team in the NHL to the least penalized from when Julien took over. To find success, the Rangers will need to capitalize on power play chances that will likely come few and far between.
Montreal went 16-7-1 to close out the year once Julien took over as head coach, earning the Atlantic Division title with a five-point cushion. The team will also be getting a boost with the returns of Weber and Jordie Benn to the lineup after missing the last two weeks of the regular season with injuries. Aside from Alexei Emelin, who will miss game one with a lower-body injury, the Canadiens are largely healthy entering postseason play and could be a favorite to reach the Eastern Conference Final once again.
New York limped into the playoffs, posting a 8-9-4 record from the end of February to drop out of contention for a spot in the Metro. The Rangers wisely rested their banged-up talent such as Rick Nash and Mats Zuccarello in the final week of the regular season while McDonagh returned to the lineup for the final game. New York is also entering the playoffs without one of its best postseason performers in Derick Brassard who scored 18 goals in 59 playoff games the last four seasons.
Prediction: Montreal in seven
Game 1: April 12 – New York Rangers at Montreal Canadiens – 7 p.m.
Game 2: April 14 – New York Rangers at Montreal Canadiens – 7 p.m.
Game 3: April 16 – Montreal Canadiens at New York Rangers – 7 p.m.
Game 4*: April 18 – Montreal Canadiens at New York Rangers – 7 p.m.
Game 5*: April 20 – New York Rangers at Montreal Canadiens – Time TBD
Game 6*: April 22 – Montreal Canadiens at New York Rangers – Time TBD
Game 7*: April 24 – New York Rangers at Montreal Canadiens – Time TBD