New York Rangers (96 points) Vs. Montreal Canadiens (100 points)
Regular Season Series: MTL (2-1, one OT win)
Game one: Saturday, May 17, 1:00 p.m. EST in Montreal.
(For the rest of the series schedule, click here).
New York Rangers
Let me first say that this is a great matchup for the old-school hockey fan. This Eastern Conference Finals matchup has two original-six hockey teams squaring off against one another, one with most of their country supporting them (Canada, duh!) and one with the biggest city, and the most scrutinizing fan-base and media in the States (New York, more duh!). We know why the Rangers are here, and it is in the form of their netminder King Henrik Lundqvist. He was fantastic in the series against the Philadelphia Flyers, and even better against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Give credit to New York’s special units, as they kept the Penguins off the scoreboard on 13-straight power plays, and conversely, the Rangers scored three power-play goals in their last two victories in the series. The secret formula to beating the Canadiens? Stay out of the penalty box and force a Canadiens defenseman not named P.K. Subban to handle the puck.
X-Factor: Rick Nash – The Rangers are going to need some sharp-shooting to score on David Price and Nash has usually been one of the best shooters in the same. Rangers fans have been waiting to see him have an outburst of goals that we saw in Columbus and this week wouldn’t be the worst time for that to happen.
X-Blackhawk Factor: Daniel Carcillo
While Lundqvist has been grabbing most of the headlines, Montreal goalie Carey Price has been just as good, if not better. He shutout the Boston Bruins in Game 6 and held them to one goal in Game 7. Their acquisition of Thomas Vanek has jumpstarted one of the poorer offenses in the league, one that depends very much on the play of their defenseman. Look for the aforementioned Subban and Andrei Markov to quarterback the offense, but that may be a spot where the Rangers have the advantage. We had a Brian Gionta sighting in the first round against the Tampa Bay Lightning and I expect him to be extra-motivated to play against his longtime rival while he was across the bridge in New Jersey.
X-Factor: Mike Weaver -The lack of depth on the defensive end could be what hurts Montreal the most in this series. The Rangers are loaded with talent near the blue-line and will be able to throw out men capable of slowing down whatever offense the Canadiens can muster. Weaver brings a toughness to the blue-line that Subban doesn’t need to show. If Weaver can stay out of the penalty box and keep the Rangers wingers like Nash and Mats Zuccarello from getting passes in the slot.
X-Blackhawk Factor: None
Prediction: Rangers in Six