THE RANGERS WIN IF…
Henrik Lundqvist continues his remarkable play and outplays Craig Anderson the way he did Carey Price. The same goaltender that looked so ordinary during the regular season was brilliant against the Canadiens, making stops that were impressive in both their volume and their timing. The Rangers managed to grind out a six-game triumph over the Montreal Canadiens despite getting a grand total of zero goals from J.T. Miller, Chris Kreider and Kevin Hayes. But they didn’t need it because they got an enormous contribution from their depth players, including former Senator Mika Zibanejad, who scored a goal and added three assists in the series. The Rangers’ power play was cataclysmically bad in the first round, but it’s also important to note that four of the eight teams moving on to Round 2 were at the bottom of the first round in power-play success. The Rangers have more skill than they get credit for, but it’s clear that their success in this series will be measured on physicality, defense and goaltending, all of which are elite at the moment.
THE SENATORS WIN IF…
Erik Karlsson can stay out of traction and plays the way he did in the first round. There is no team, not the Edmonton Oilers with Connor McDavid, the Toronto Maple Leafs with Auston Matthews, the Pittsburgh Penguins with Sidney Crosby, that relies on the superhuman efforts of one player more than the Senators do on Karlsson. His decision to disclose that he played the first round with two hairline fractures basically amounted to an open invitation for the Rangers to target his left foot. Karlsson didn’t score a goal in the first round, but had assists on 40 percent of his team’s scoring and, as was the case in the regular season, dictated the pace and tempo of the game. The Senators have suddenly become a lot more dangerous with Bobby Ryan relocating his scoring touch and Clarke MacArthur giving them some offensive juice with his return to the lineup. If their talent, along with the likes of Mark Stone and Mike Hoffman, can overcome the Rangers’ depth, things will go well for the Sens.
By far one of the most intriguing storylines of the series will be the battle over who won the pre-season trade between these two teams. Derick Brassard was swapped for Mika Zibanejad as the Rangers aimed to get younger while the Senators tried to get better now. One series won’t decide who got the better of whom here, but it is interesting to see how similarly they rate by total value stats with nearly equal Game Scores and very close goals above replacement ratings. They do it in different ways as Brassard gets his value from driving play (and was he ever good there this season) while Zibanejad is better at producing points. When they’ve gone head-to-head over the last five years, Brassard’s better possession ability made for one lopsided matchup, earning two-thirds of the shot attempts. It hasn’t equaled a similar goal advantage, but he did have an edge there, too. If that trend continues, Zibanejad will be spending a lot more time chasing the puck in his own zone instead of showing his superior offensive flair. That could be a difference maker for an Ottawa team that looks mostly outmatched here. (Dom Luszczyszyn)
The Senators bent many times in their first-round encounter with the Bruins, but never broke. From Anderson to Ryan to MacArthur, there has been no shortage of stories of triumph this season. Following in the footsteps of Karlsson, the Senators are playing some very inspired hockey of late and are developing into a formidable opponent. This series will likely be physical, low-scoring and battled in the trenches, which is the way the Rangers would be most comfortable. It could provide mind-numbing hockey with long and tedious overtimes, or the razor-thin difference between the teams might prove to be intriguing. Let’s hope it’s the latter.
SENATORS in seven.
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