After an exciting six game series against the Montreal Canadiens, the New York Rangers after heading into round two against another north of the border team for the first time since 1937.
Before Thursday’s game one, there are five key elements to examine from not only the Rangers round one victory but their history with the Ottawa Senators.
New York Rangers vs. Ottawa Senators: Five Keys to Round Two
1) The King has Returned: Henrik Lundqvist
It’s no secret that Henrik Lundqvist had a questionable regular season this year, giving up uncharacteristic goals, struggling to find his rhythm and being sidelined by injury. However, when it counted, the King was back with a vengeance.
Lundqvist’s playoff statistics to date, would be his best in his entire career. With a 1.70 goals against average and .947 save percentage, he was unbeatable. Compare that to last year’s first round exit with a 4.39 goals against average and .867 save percentage. Lundqvist’s next best playoff numbers come from the 2011-12 post-season with a 1.82 goals against average and .931 save percentage.
For those who say Lundqivst’s window is closing, open up those eyes and take a look at the cold, hard, stats.
2) Depth Saves the Blueshirts
Everyone knows the Rangers top-liners. Derek Stepan, Chris Kreider, J.T. Miller, Michael Grabner, and Rick Nash but they may as well not have shown up in round one with the depth the Rangers are rolling. It was the fourth line who came to play in games one and two when the top lines struggled to produce much of anything.
With the wake-up call from game three’s horrendous performance, the top players seemed to smell the coffee a bit but they wouldn’t have a chance to show it if it wasn’t for the workhorses of the bottom lines. It was all about the Swedes, Oscar Lindberg and Jesper Fast. Fans may still be drooling over Fast’s goal in Game 5 from Zibanejad and his backhand in game four. Talk about a player’s player.
3) Summer’s Trade Shocker: Brassard and Zibanejad
The Blueshirts’ biggest trade of the summer came when they announced they were trading Derick Brassard for Mika Zibanejad. Brassard had been one of the scorers for the Rangers, especially in the post-season and his friendship with his teammates, especially Mats Zuccarello was a point of focus. Brassard scored 27 goals in his 2015-16 season with the Rangers and tallied 14 goals with the Senators this regular season. While Zibanejad also scored 14 goals for the Rangers this season, he was out for several weeks with a broken leg.
Zibanejad is five years younger than Brassard and this was an intelligent move for Rangers management. They added some much needed youth on an aging Rangers squad. Zibanejad also scored the overtime winner in Game 5 to send the Rangers back to New York to punch their Round Two ticket.
4) Limiting Erik Karlsson
Erik Karlsson, a Team Sweden teammate with Lundqvist many times over, including in this past summer’s World Cup of Hockey, was the Senators best player this year with 71 points.
Captain Karlsson is a nominee for the Norris Trophy for the fourth time in his career. He had another outstanding performance in the 2016-17 NHL season.
However, while the stats and leadership qualities don’t lie, Karlsson has been playing with hairline fractures in his heel. He has stated that he does not foresee them becoming a problem. The injury initially occurred on March 28th blocking a shot but reappeared. With the top ice-time in this playoffs (182:23), including 41 minutes in Game 5′s double overtime, Karlsson is not letting pain sway his stamina.
Karlsson has the ability to take over a game, and maybe a series. The Rangers have to be sure that they do not allow him to do so, and limit his opportunities to create offensive damage.
5) The Blueshirts are Bringing the Grit
More than your typical blue-liners got involved in scraps in round one. Even baby-face Jimmy Vesey who took on Montreal captain, Max Pacioretty in Game 6. The Rangers versus Canadiens series, once touted to be one of solely skill turned into the most physically aggressive of all round one match ups. Montreal had 52 penalty minutes while the Rangers were right behind with 48.
It is not only physical grit that emerged in the series, it was the Rangers mental will to win. There is no question that grit was non-existent for the Rangers in Game 3 and they knew it. Their ability to come back and win three-in-a-row to seal the series win proved that there’s a winners’ mentality in the Rangers locker room.
Most Blueshirt fans dislike Dan Girardi but he’s making these playoffs count. Girardi’s hit on Shaw was a key piece in Game 5’s success and his Rangers tenure is nothing short of impressive.
With a couple days to rest before Thursday, will the Rangers continue to Round Three? Will the Senators rare playoff appearance motivate them to propel ahead? The clock is ticking.