Season series: Senators win, 3-1
Oct. 29:Senators 5 at Rangers 4 (SO)Nov. 9:Rangers 3 at Senators 2Jan. 12:Senators 3 at Rangers 0March 8:Rangers 1 at Senators 4
Key injuries:New York -- C Derek Stepan (knee, day to day), RW Mats Zuccarello (wrist surgery, indefinite). Ottawa -- None
Snapshot: There is almost no playoff history to speak of between these two cities -- except for a Depression-era two-game series -- making this first-round match-up ripe for fresh animosity. The season series swung in Ottawa's favor, but New York isn't too worried, mostly because the teams haven't met since the Rangers mined gold with their top line: center Brad Richards and his wings Marian Gaborik and speedy rookie Carl Hagelin. Since uniting in the middle of March, the trio scored 14 goals in the final 14 games of the season. New York's lackadaisical power play (21st in the league) has been better of late, converting on 20 percent of its chances since March.
But where the Rangers strengths mostly lie is in their ability to shut down opposing offenses, holding them to a conference-leading 2.22 goals per game. That shining number is not all due to the sterling play of All-Star goalie Henrik Lundqvist, a leading candidate for the Vezina this season, but to a defensive mindset that permeates the entire team. It's not only New York's defensemen who block shots, obstruct passing lanes and clear rebounds night in and night out -- though stalwarts like Dan Girardi and Marc Staal are among the league's best shutdown blueliners.
But New York's defense will be put to the test against the potent Senators attack. Ottawa's fourth-ranked offense is led by center Jason Spezza and winger Milan Michalek, who have each victimized the Rangers four times this season. Their speed can put the Blueshirts back on their heels. The Senators also have a resiliency that's evidenced in the 102 third period goals they scored this season, third-most in the league. Goalie Craig Anderson has been considerably better on the road than at home (2.68 GAA vs. 3.02 at home), so starting in the intimidating Madison Square Garden might be a blessing in disguise for Ottawa.
Spotlight's on: Brandon Dubinsky. The Rangers center says that playoff hockey suits him. Now he gets a chance to prove it. After signing a four-year, $16.8 million extension last summer, expectations for the feisty forward have been fairly high -- and largely unmet. He scored a career low 10 goals and 34 points this season. But he can be an offensive catalyst for a team that perhaps leans too heavily on its top scorers. With his grinding and often agitating style, he'll be counted on to help silence Ottawa's sneaky good offense, but the Rangers will need him to produce offensively if they hope for a long run this spring.
X-Factor for the Rangers: Their second line. Their econdary scoring has been streaky all year, but it takes on even greater importance in a seven-game series. Essentially, New York will need to get more from players not named Gaborik or Richards. Captain Ryan Callahan, who enjoyed a career season with 29 goals and 54 points, should be counted on for a few, but his linemates, Derek Stepan and Artem Anisimov, have the power to turn the series with some timely offensive contribution.
X-Factor for the Senators: Erik Karlsson. The 21-year-old defenseman's 78-point breakout season not only put him in the Norris Trophy discussion, but the history books. He was the youngest blueliner to reach 70 points since, well, Rangers legend Brian Leetch did it in 1988-89. He's been obviously impressive offensively, but it doesn't make him a defensive liability, either. He can control the puck against top lines and his creativity and fluid skating could poke holes in the rigid Rangers system. Then again, the system could also overwhelm the youngster, who has just six playoff games under his belt.
The Pick: Rangers in 6