Season Recap: New York Rangers (53-22-7, 113 Points)
What a season it has been for Alain Vigneault’s New York Rangers. Despite losing their star goaltender for 2 months, they remained at the very top of the food chain in all the NHL, and wound up finishing the season as the best team in the league, claiming the Presidents Trophy. The team let in the 3rd fewest goals in the league and scored the 3rd most goals as well. Score a lot, and don’t let a lot of goals in? That’s a pretty good recipe for success.
Rick Nash (42 G, 27 A, 69 PTS in 79 GP)
This is the Rick Nash the Rangers signed back in 2012. Nash achieved a career high in goals at 42, which also put him in 3rd in overall scoring. At 6’4 220 lbs, the man can move and has ridiculous hands. The playoffs have always plagued him, but this year is different for him. If he can continue to produce like he did in the regular season, he will be a force to be reckoned with.
Ryan McDonagh (8 G, 25 A, 33 PTS in 71 GP)
In his first season as captain, the 25-year-old McDonagh has been nothing short of brilliant. Sure, he’s not putting up huge offensive numbers, but that’s also not what a defenseman is primarily used for. He is as solid as it gets on the blue line and in front of the his goalie and the Rangers are going to need him to stay that way if they want to hold of Crosby and co.
Henrik Lundqvist (30-13-3, 2.25 GAA, .922 SV% in 46 GP)
Quite simply, he’s one of the best goalies in the league, especially come playoff time. He will scratch at tooth and nail to keep that puck from going in his net. He’s just now getting back into his rhythm after suffering a neck injury on January 31st, but I don’t think his long absence is going to matter much, because come playoff time, he really is ‘The King.’
Season Recap: Pittsburgh Penguins (43-27-12, 98 Points)
What an up and down season for the Pittsburgh Penguins, a team marred by injury and inconsistency. The team has yet to truly find their rhythm that they’ve lost from previous seasons, barely making it into the wild card position. Nevertheless, the duo of Crosby and a healthy Evgeni Malkin is as terrifying as any other duo in the league. The playoffs are in some ways the start of a new season, and now would be a better time than ever for the Penguins to get it together.
Sidney Crosby (28 G, 56 A, 84 PTS in 77 GP)
It’s hard to believe that 84 points for Sidney Crosby would be considered a down year. The Pittsburgh Captain finished 3rd in overall points this season, and has his name etched in as a contender for the Hart trophy as the league’s MVP. Regardless of it being a ‘down’ year for him, he’s still easily one of the absolute best players in all of hockey. Over the years the 27-year-old has matured and become a true captain of his team, with Malkin back now and healthy, these 2 could do some serious damage again.
Malkin is always a threat, especially when healthy and paired with Crosby as mentioned earlier. He was having a good year before he was sidelined by injury in March, but he is back just in time for the playoffs. The key with him is really how healthy he is. He did play a few games before the end of the season with no problem, so you’d have to assume he’s 100%, but we’ll truly find out throughout these playoffs. If he really is 100%, then look out Rangers because this is one big Russian you can’t take your eyes off of.
Marc-Andre Fleury (34-20-9, 2.32 GAA, .920 SV% in 64 GP)
It’s true, Fleury is not as good as he once was. This is not the Marc-Andre Fleury of the 2008-2009 Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins. Regardless though, he is not the worst goalie in these playoffs, and he is very important if they Penguins hope to knock off the Rangers, he’ll have to channel his inner ’08-’09 self to do it.
Why the Rangers will win
They’re the best team in all of the NHL. The finished at the top and they should squash a team like Pittsburgh who barely made it into the playoffs and can’t get their act together. Rick Nash is finally playing like the Rick Nash they signed a few years ago and Henrik Lundqvist is one of the best goalies in all of the NHL.
Why the Rangers won’t win
The pressure of being #1 will get to them. The expectation of being the best team in the league and winning the whole thing is too much for them to handle and Rick Nash will fall back into not being able to perform in the playoffs.
Why the Penguins will win
The duo of Crosby and Malkin is too much for New York’s defense and Marc-Andre Fleury turns the clock back.
Why the Penguins won’t win
The absence of Kris Letang severely hurts both the Penguins’ defense and offense. The Rangers are too good and will exploit all the faults in this Penguins team and end their Cup hopes early.
The Penguins 1st defensive pairing between either Paul Martin/Ben Lovejoy or Paul Martin/Christian Ehrhoff if Ehrhoff is healthy for game 1. If that first pairing that will be going up against the line of Nash-Brassard-Zuccarello can hold strong, and essentially replace what they’re missing out of an injured Kris Letang, they might have a chance.
New York Rangers in 7 games.
h/t: NHL.com, rangers.nhl.com, penguins.nhl.com, ESPN.com