Silverman: Lundqvist Will Lead Rangers To Stanley Cup Final
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By Steve Silverman
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The second round of the playoffs is almost always a cataclysmic event when it involves the New York Rangers.
Two years ago, the Rangers bounced the Washington Capitals in seven games, and Washington head coach Dale Hunter almost immediately announced that he had enough and was quitting his position. Hunter had been the interim coach of the Caps after Bruce Boudreau had been fired during the season. Hunter almost certainly could have kept the job if he wanted, but he chose to get out of Dodge.
Last year, the Rangers were punished in five games by the Boston Bruins in the second round, and Glen Sather had seen enough. He used that decisive defeat to lay the hammer down on John Tortorella and put an end to that provocative chapter in team history.
This time around, the Rangers were not about to succumb to the heavily-favored Pittsburgh Penguins. It may have looked that way when they went down 3-1, but the Rangers found a rallying point in the death of Martin St. Louis’ mother and won three straight games to capture the series.
It was great relief and accomplishment from the New York perspective, but unmitigated disaster from the Pittsburgh side. This team of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang should be perennial contenders. Instead, they have flamed out in the postseason every year since winning the Stanley Cup in 2010.
It was too much for owner Mario Lemieux to take, and the Penguins fired Ray Shero and will allow a new general manager to decide head coach Dan Bylsma’s fate.
The Rangers move on to a date with the Montreal Canadiens, who created havoc of their own by standing up to the Boston Bruins and beating them in seven games. The Bruins were the odds-on favorites to win the Eastern Conference this year, but Montreal used its quickness, opportunistic scoring and the goaltending of Carey Price to win the series.
The Rangers and Habs are built in very similar ways, and the No. 1 attribute of each team is its goaltending. Carey Price has had a magical year for the Canadiens.
He has been on top of his game since the start of the season, and he cemented his status as one of the game’s best goaltenders with his performance in net for Team Canada in the Sochi Olympics. His goaltending was the key to the gold medal, and he has not had any letdowns since.
Price rarely gave the swarming Bruins any rebound opportunities, and he regularly shut the door on shooters like Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci and Brad Marchand.
Henrik Lundqvist does not have to take a back seat to any goaltender, no matter how hot the opponent. The big difference between Price and Lundqvist is consistency over the years. Price has always been a talent, but he has not always played at a peak level. Lundqvist shuts the door every single year, without fail.
It’s not that Lundqvist can win by himself, but with just a little bit of support, he almost always gets the job done.
This figures to be a low-scoring series with 1-0 and 2-1 games being the rule. The Rangers and Habs played three times during the regular season, and there were three shutouts with the Habs winning two and the Rangers winning once.
The Rangers would love to see Rick Nash break out of his malaise against Montreal, but that just doesn’t seem likely. Instead, the Rangers are going to need solid production from St. Louis, Derek Stepan, Brad Richards, Mats Zuccarello, Carl Hagelin and Derrick Brassard.
The Habs feature Max Pacioretty, Tomas Plekanec, Thomas Vanek and the explosive P.K. Subban bombing away from the point. Subban may be one of the most misunderstood players in the league. While his huge shot and outsized personality stand out most, he is one of the best defenseman in the league because he tends to possess the puck and he plays strong positional defense when he sets his mind to it.
He’ll try to exaggerate penalty calls by taking dives and he loves to play the villain role, but he can play the game.
Don’t be surprised to see another seven-game series here. These teams play it tight and neither goalie is likely to have more than one substandard game. In the end, you don’t want to bet against Lundqvist in a seven-game series. He knows how to come up with his best game when it’s all on the line, and that will lead the Rangers to the Stanley Cup Final.
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