(Photo Courtesy of Barton Silverman/The New York Times)
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. New York Rangers
In 2008, the Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the New York Rangers in five games. That was the last time these two times have played postseason hockey against one another. The New York Rangers at that time boasted a team that was lead by Jaromir Jagr, Chris Drury (Captain Clutch) and Scott Gomez. Since then, the team has had a significant makeover that has seen Marian Gaborik come through and ultimately end with the likes of Brad Richards, Rick Nash and Martin St. Louis.
The Rangers are now padded with young high-end talent with Carl Hagelin, Derick Brassard, Mats Zuccarello and Ryan McDonagh. When analyzing this Pittsburgh roster it’s easy to understand that this team still starts and ends with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Ever since these two took the league by storm in the mid 2000s the Penguins have been guaranteed to make the playoffs every year.
After watching the first round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs I have seen two extremely different teams on a nightly basis. The Pittsburgh Penguins were startled by an upstart Columbus team who used a hit first, north-south approach to their game. They exposed a major flaw within the Penguins game. Their defense is both too young and too old. Brooks Orpik hasn’t looked the same in years and often relies are dirty plays due to the fact that he cannot keep up with the speedier forwards in the league. Kris Letang has not looked the same since returning from the stroke he suffered mid-way through the season. In the playoffs he has accumulated 1 assist, 10 penalty minutes and a minus-2 rating. The stats hardly paint the entire picture as he has made too many boneheaded plays coming out of their own zone, which led to a few Columbus goals. Their forward depth is lacking heavily as it usually does. After the top two lines there are very few offensive contributors. Players such as Goc, Vitale, Craig, Glass and Gibbons are not going to score those clutch goals when things get down to the wire. This means when their star players aren’t crashing the net, setting up plays, and getting into the dirty areas of the ice, it ends up becoming too close a game for their comfort.
The Rangers also have a large percentage of their salary cap invested in stars that have not been playing up to their potential as of late. This team has a much more balanced group of forwards and the play of Henrik Lundqvist is almost always a cut above the rest. They are willing to block shots and cover the shooting lanes well. However, they are prone to getting caught when their defensemen pinch up on the play.
Keys to success
– Offensive contributions from Top 6 forwards
– Smart passes out of their zone
– Fleury managing his nerves
– Veteran leadership
– Power Play success
– Taking Crosby out of the game
Prediction: Rangers in 7
Boston Bruins vs. Montreal Canadians
These two teams have met 34 times in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It is no surprise to see both of these franchises moving on to the second round, mainly because of how similarly they’ve match up this season. When scrolling through both rosters, there are balanced forward lines, and veteran leadership mixed with speedy and strong skating young players. Zdeno Chara leads a defense that is young, but maturing very quickly with the likes of Tory Krug, Dougie Hamilton and Matt Barkowski. Veteran Andrei Markov anchors Montreal’s defense, but P.K. Subban is a superstar in the making with his accurate shooting and unbelievable skating ability. Both Tuukka Rask and Carey Price have been extremely focused with Tuukka leading the playoffs in both save percentage and goals against.
Through the first round Boston did a fantastic job of limiting “Grade A” scoring chances from the Detroit Red Wings. They kept shooting to the perimeter with a significant amount of bad-angle shots. Offensively they got deep into the corners, won battles, and opened up shooting lanes in the center of the ice. Due to their experience, Boston also understands how to weather the frustration and emotions felt through these lengthy series’.
Montreal made light work of the Tampa Bay Lightning by simply getting pucks to the net. Their forward lines are balanced with snipers (Vanek, Pacioretty), playmakers (Gallagher, Plekanec) and veterans Daniel Briere and Brian Gionta. Their offensive likes to generate scoring chances from behind the net.
This series is ultimately going to come down to goaltending. When Tuukka is dialed-in and focused it is almost impossible for him to let in a soft goal. That means that Montreal has to find ways to generate high quality scoring chances by developing breakaways, 2 v 1’s and strong puck moving power plays. Though Carey Price may not be as talented as Tuukka Rask, he still possesses the ability to pull a win out of thin air. It’s going to take strong fore-checking and defensive pinching to put pressure on these goaltenders.
Keys to Success
– Balanced offensive contributions
– Limited mistakes by young defensemen
– Effective special teams
– Quality scoring chances
– Focused goaltending
– Blocking shots
Prediction: Bruins in 6