With each team winning a six-game series against two of the league’s top goaltenders, the New York Rangers and the Ottawa Senators will meet with a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals on the line.
This is essentially where finishing fourth in the Metropolitan Division pays off for the Rangers. After dispatching Carey Price and the Montreal Canadiens in six games this weekend, New York will play a less talented (though still dangerous) Ottawa Senators team. Meanwhile, divisional rivals Pittsburgh and Washington will face off in another classic meeting between Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin. The Sens defeated a depleted Boston Bruins squad in six games to move onto the Eastern Conference Second Round.
Rangers netminder Henrik Lundqvist outdueled the equally-talented Price to help New York shut down Montreal’s offense. “King Henrik” allowed just 11 goals throughout the series, finishing with a 1.70 goals-against average. The Rangers also saw key players such as Rick Nash, who has struggled in past postseasons, and Mats Zuccarello take charge command of the offense while also doing all the right things in key situations. In game two, New York was 17 seconds away from taking a commanding 2-0 lead in the series, but gave up a goal and subsequently lost in overtime. After losing game three, the Rangers rattled off a trio wins to take the series from Montreal, showcasing the team’s resiliency.
The Senators faced a Bruins team that was a mix of veteran-talent and players who, a few weeks ago, were either in college or playing down in Providence, R.I. Despite this, Boston jumped out to a 1-0 series lead and had a 3-1 advantage entering the third period of game two. Ottawa refocused, tied the game, and won it in overtime, knotting up the series at one game a piece. The series was especially taxing, with every game being decided by a single goal and five total overtime periods being played. The Sens saw key contributions from the always dominant Erik Karlsson, a resurgent Bobby Ryan, and former Blueshirt and known-playoff performer, Derick Brassard. Craig Anderson was stellar in net, and the team received an emotional boost from the return of Clarke MacArthur who scored two goals including the overtime winner in game six after being out for 18 months with concussion issues.
Surrounding this series will be last summer’s big trade between the two teams of Mika Zibanejad and Derick Brassard. For the regular season, their stats are nearly identical with 14 goals each and Brassard’s 25 assists edging out Zibanejad’s 23. However, Zibanejad also missed 25 games during the year due to a broken leg. In the playoffs, both players have been massive contributors for their new clubs. Zibanejad scored the overtime winner in game five against the Habs to set up a series-clinching game six. He also led a well-balanced New York team in scoring for the series with four points. Meanwhile, Brassard carried much of the load for the Sens in their last series, earning eight points in six games against the B’s.
Another concern for Ottawa is the health of their captain, Erik Karlsson. The two-time Norris Trophy winner has been receiving injections to play through two hairline fractures in his left heel. Between games five and six, Karlsson spent 71:44 on the ice. With the injury set to remain untreated until Ottawa is eliminated, asking Karlsson to keep playing at this pace could prove devastating. As the Senators saw against the Bruins, a team will struggle to win without its top d-men. If Karlsson’s injury gets worse and eventually sidelines him for some games, the Senators winning this series becomes a nearly impossible task.
Anderson has been enjoying a good season, boasting a .921 save percentage and a 1.94 goals against average, all while his wife has been battling cancer. But to best Lundqvist, Anderson will need to be nearly perfect. Lundqvist has returned to world-class status at the right time for New York. His .970 save percentage and 1.70 GAA in the first round leads all Eastern Conference goalies. With the Senators’ neutral zone trap style of play sacrificing offense for defensive stability, Anderson will need to stifle the Rangers’ four-line attack which guarantees at least one 20-goal scorer being on the ice for each shift.
A Bruins team without some of its top players was still able to break through the trap game at times, only being shut out once in the series during a 1-0 loss in game four. With the Rangers’ superior offense and speed, a dump and chase game should be able to cut through the neutral zone. As the series continues, expect Karlsson’s mounting minutes to take their toll on the talented blueliner. With Lundqvist looking as good as he did against Montreal, its hard to believe Ottawa will present a tougher challenge.
Prediction: New York in five
Game 1: April 27 – New York Rangers at Ottawa Senators – 7 p.m.
Game 2: April 29 – New York Rangers at Ottawa Senators – 3 p.m.
Game 3: May 2 – Ottawa Senators at New York Rangers – 7 p.m.
Game 4: May 4 – Ottawa Senators at New York Rangers – 7:30 p.m.
*Game 5: May 6 – New York Rangers at Ottawa Senators – Time TBD
*Game 6: May 9 – Ottawa Senators at New York Rangers – Time TBD
*Game 7: May 11 – New York Rangers at Ottawa Senators – Time TBD