Series tied 2-2
Nov. 6:Rangers 5, Penguins 1
Dec. 18:Penguins 4, Rangers 3 (SO)
Jan. 3:Penguins 5, Rangers 2
Feb. 7:Rangers 4, Penguins 3 (SO)
Penguins: D Brooks Orpik (day-to-day with undisclosed injury), C Brian Gibbons (day-to-day with undisclosed injury), Joe Vitale (day-to-day with bruised knee), Brandon Sutter (day-to-day with lower-body injury)
Keys to a Rangers victory
Rick Nash will have to get untracked at some point. The Rangers’ ace forward, a two-time 40-goal scorer, has one in his last 13 games, and none so far in the playoffs. He's also been held scoreless in his last four outings. Though he does many other things well and can break down a defense when he gets in on New York’s forecheck, the Rangers will need offensive input from him if they expect to keep up with Pittsburgh’s big guns. The Rangers' specialty teams also need to improve. After its first-round series vs. Philadelphia, New York stood just 14th among 16 playoff teams in power play percentage (10.3) and 15th on the penalty kill (71.4), but fortunately had the best ratio of goals for/against (1.88) at even strength. The Rangers will also need their shutdown defense pair of Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi to work overtime against Pittsburgh’s powerhouse forwards. In New York’s first series, McDonagh averaged 25:04 per game and Girardi 22:12 to lead the team in ice time. How tired they and the rest of the Blueshirts will be after back-to-back games to close out Philly, and only one day off before taking on the Penguins, who they'll play three times in four nights, is a key question.
Keys to a Penguins victory
Goaltending, goaltending and did we mention goaltending? For the past few seasons, Marc-Andre Fleury has spoiled strong regular seasons with poor performances in the playoffs. In the Pens’ first-round win against Columbus, he gave up a goal by being lazy behind the net on an opposing dump-in and another by being too aggressive and badly overplaying his angle. Fleury is battling his memories of everything that has gone wrong in the past. Yet, he is the only starting Eastern Conference goalie to lead his team to the Stanley Cup (Tuukka Rask was a back-up with Boston), so he can succeed. The Pens need a healthy Brandon Sutter in the lineup in order to play Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin together. This team gets mighty thin if the top two are paired and Sutter isn’t availble to center the second line. Pittsburgh also must get better play from defenseman Kris Letang, who produced more than a point per game last year in both the regular season and playoffs, but struggled this season (suffering a stroke in January was a serious setback). He had just one assist and a -2 rating to show for his sometimes shaky first-round series.
Rangers in 7: Yes, we should give the Penguins a lot of credit for overcoming their weaknesses in the first round against the Blue Jackets, but New York has a lot of fast forwards, as Columbus did, and they can take advantage of any loose play around or by Fleury. The Rangers should enjoy a considerable advantage in goal with Henrik Lundqvist there to challenge Crosby and Malkin. If the Blueshirts stay out of the box, they have a much better chance to win. If the Penguins avoid turnovers and bad goals, the odds tilt in their favor.
(All times Eastern; * if necessary)
Game 1: Fri. 5/2 at Pitt, 7 (NBCSN, CBC, RDS)
Game 2: Sun. 5/4 at Pitt, 7:30 (NBCSN, CBC, RDS)
Game 3: Mon. 5/5 at NY, 7:30 (NBCSN, CBC, RDS)
Game 4: Wed. 5/7 at NY, 7:30 (NBCSN, CBC, RDS)
Game 5: Fri. 5/9 at Pitt, TBD (CBC)
Game 6: Sun. 5/11 at NY, TBD (CBC)
Game 7: Tue. 5/13 at Pitt, TBD (CBC)