The New York Rangers have moved on to the second round of the NHL playoffs after eliminating the Montreal Canadiens in Game 6 in the first round, best-of-seven series. Their play in the first round was highlighted by otherworldly play from goalie Henrik Lundqvist, a plethora of goals from several different players and strong, hard-hitting physicality.
After the Rangers disposed of the Canadiens in a rollercoaster six-game series, they had set their sights on the Ottawa Senators. The Rangers’ play in the second round was on par with their first-round performance, yet they trailed the Senators 2-1 in what shaped up to be an incredibly exciting series.
The Blueshirts had prime opportunities to win every game thus far in the series, yet only had a single win to boast. Their Achilles’ heel had been the late-game collapse, something that obviously has to change if they have any desire to play in the Eastern Conference Finals for the third time in the past seven years.
Led by defenseman Erik Karlsson and goalie Craig Anderson, the Senators would have to prove they belonged in the playoffs, and they did so commandingly in a series against the Boston Bruins, whom they topped in six games. The Senators are a young franchise, celebrating their 25th year in the NHL, compared to the Rangers’ 90th.
The Senators have only advanced past the second round twice, making an appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals in 2007. The Senators also faced off against the Rangers in the semi-finals in 2012 in an extremely heated series that the Rangers would eventually win.
Their current roster does not possess a lot of star talent, but is able to win with a bevy of young potential, including Jean-Gabriel Pageau, who scored four goals in the Senators’ 6-5 Game 2 double-overtime victory.
Game 1 was held on April 27 at the Senators’ Canadian Tire Centre. The Rangers came out sluggish, possibly in shock from the 2,500 empty seats in the crowd for a playoff game. The team’s star defenseman, Ryan McDonagh, scored the only goal for the Blueshirts.
However, it was the Senators’ star defenseman, Karlsson, who would have the last laugh. With the game tied 1-1 in the third period, Karlsson shot the puck from the side of the net, just to put it on goal. The puck hit Lundqvist in the head and bounced into the net. The freak goal would prove to be the game winner in the 2-1 Senators victory. The Rangers’ defense was porous, and the offense struggled to get the puck on the net. The only constant was Lundqvist, who, as in almost every playoff game, had an extremely strong game. With the win, the Blueshirts were down 1-0 to the Senators, looking forward to different fortune in Game 2.
Game 2, played on April 29, would not prove to be the low-scoring goalie faceoff most people had imagined. The Rangers’ offense was hot, as they scored five goals en route to a 5-3 third period lead with less than 14 minutes left in the game. However, as with many Rangers playoff defeats, that lead would not be safe. Pageau netted two goals in the final five minutes to send the game into overtime. The matchup would eventually head into double overtime, with Pageau scoring his fourth goal of the game to secure the walk-off 6-5 victory for the Senators.
The Rangers were stunned, as five goals in a playoff game with Lundqvist guarding the net should spell certain victory. Their anemic defense was unable to help their star goalie at the end of the game. The Rangers were suddenly in a 2-0 hole, heading back home for two games.
The Rangers had the worst home record of all the playoff teams in the league, finishing 21-16-4 at Madison Square Garden. They did, however, win two of three games at “The World’s Most Famous Arena” in the series against the Canadiens, including the series-clinching Game 6.
The Rangers looked strong at home in Game 3, played on May 2. Mats Zuccarello and Michael Grabner came out strong against the Senators, each scoring a first period goal. Lundqvist was able to bounce back after giving up six goals in Game 2, allowing only one past him. Rick Nash and Oscar Lindberg scored in the second period, and the team held strong in the third as it allowed zero goals, to secure the 4-1 victory. With the win, the Rangers were back in business, showing no signs of quitting.
The Rangers kept every game in this series competitive, losing by one in each loss in the series leading into Game 4. They scored five and four goals in Games 2 and 3, respectively, both tremendous offensive outings. They seemed primed to get on the comeback trail, leading them down to the Eastern Conference Finals yet again.
The Senators proved to be a tough challenge for the Blueshirts so far, but the Blueshirts looked to be up to the challenge of coming back from a 2-1 series deficit.
The key to winning this series for the Rangers will lay in their ability to find balance on offense and defense.
Too often, the Rangers excel on offense, only to trip on their skates, and vice versa. If the team is able to complement its shutdown defense with a full-throttle offense, it should easily shell out the come-from-behind series win. The Rangers are well-placed to advance.