Rangers open round one on the road vs Pittsburgh; Fleury a game time decision
After a tumultuous regular season, the Rangers open up the playoffs tonight against the Pittsburgh Penguins, looking to get things started on the right foot in their latest quest for a Stanley Cup Championship.
This marks the third consecutive season that the Rangers and Penguins will meet in the playoffs, and the second straight year that they play in Round 1. Two years ago, the Rangers came back from a 3-1 series deficit, without having home ice advantage. Last year, Derick Brassard opened the scoring 28 seconds into the playoffs and Carl Hagelin sent the Penguins home packing after a Game 5 overtime winner. The Rangers had home ice in that series.
The mentality in the Rangers locker room since training camp was getting back to the playoffs and finishing what they’ve started, what they’ve been so close to accomplishing in three of the last four seasons. They haven’t made it easy on themselves, and face a tough road ahead, but this is a team full of hungry guys as well as veterans who realize their window may be closing. And that makes this playoff series a special one, and one with potentially a lot more riding on it.
The Penguins are a much better team than they were last season. Mike Sullivan has done a fantastic job of implementing in a playstyle that works for his guys, getting the most out of his AHL guys in the bottom six, and using an analytical approach to hockey. It’s worked, as the Pens closed out the season winning 14 of their last 16 games and finishing three points ahead of the Rangers.
Despite the Penguins having tons of momentum, an excellent, deep lineup, and winning the last three games of the season series, the Rangers will usually tend to have the edge in playoff experience. New York has won seven of the last eight playoff games against Pittsburgh and have a knack for beating some of the tougher teams in the league. But it will take everything that Vigneault’s squad has to beat the Penguins in Round one.
Fleury has been out with concussion issues, but did practice with the team the past few days. He wouldn’t confirm or deny his status heading into tonight’s game, but after the morning skate, it looks like he will be the Game 1 starter. Fleury did participate in the morning skate, but Sullivan said he will be a “game time decision. Fleury was 35-17-6 with a 2.29 GAA and a .921 save percentage in the regular season.
If Fleury doesn’t start, Jeff Zatkoff would be in net.Zatkoff was 4-7-1 with a 2.79 GAA and a .917 save percentage in 17 appearances this season, and he’s never played an NHL playoff game. In fact, he only has 14 AHL playoff games on his resume as well.
Sidney Crosby had the worst start to a season this year in his career, scoring just one goal and seven assists in his first 18 games. But over the next 62 games that he played, Crosby scored 77 points (35-42-77) and solidified himself as arguably the best player in the NHL. It doesn’t need to be said, but he’ll be a focal point of the Pittsburgh attack, and he has the ability to turn any game on its head by himself, which makes him such a unique threat.
The Penguins are going to try and beat the Rangers with one thing specifically; speed. In the recent matchups, Sullivan utilized some of his really quick players, and there quite a few of them in his lineup, to exploit the holes in the Rangers defense, mainly the slower Marc Staal and Dan Girardi. So Sullivan is going to use Phil Kessel and Carl Hagelin extensively. The line of Hagelin, Bonino and Kessel was the team’s best down the stretch. Kessel had 12 points (5-7-12 in the final nine games and 59 points (26-33-59) this season. Hagelin had 27 points (10-17-27) in 37 games with Pittsburgh. This line will be the Penguins’ most dangerous.
The Rangers best chance at beating the Penguins comes in the form of Henrik Lundqvist, their start goaltender that has stolen series and wins away in the playoffs throughout his entire career. Hank had a solid year, with 35 wins, a .920 save percentage and a .934 even strength save percentage. He comes into this game winning seven of the last eight playoff games against Pittsburgh, with a 7-1-0 record, a 1.34 GAA and a .954 save percentage in those games. Even better? He’s 4-0 with a .99 GAA and a .965 save percentage in the last four playoff games at CONSOL Energy Center. Lundqvist will need to bring his A-game in order for the Rangers to challenge the Pens.
Derek Stepan may be the most important forward on the Rangers. He does a bit of everything, and he does everything pretty darn well. Stepan was tied for fourth in the league in points since February 10th, racking up 31 points in that span. Since he returned to the lineup on December 18th until the end of the regular season, he led the Blueshirts in points (41), was second in assists (25), and tied for second in goals (16). In the last seven playoff games against the Penguins, Stepan has five points (2-3-5).
Keith Yandle will play a huge role for the Rangers in the playoffs, especially with Ryan McDonagh out of the lineup. Yandle is entering the playoffs fully immersed in the Rangers system and ready to help the team in many ways from the blue line. He led the Rangers in assists (42) as well as tying the team lead in power play points (22). His speed and skating ability should help in matchups against Hagelin and Kessel as well. Vigneault needs to lean on Yandle heavily to help take pressure off of Staal and Girardi.
The Rangers and the Penguins will faceoff at the CONSOL Energy Center at 8 PM. The game will be broadcasted on MSG Network.
EXPECTED LINEUP (Not Confirmed)
JT Miller-Derick Brassard-Mats Zuccarello
Chris Kreider-Derek Stepan-Rick Nash
Eric Staal-Kevin Hayes-Jesper Fast
Tanner Glass-Dominic Moore-Viktor Stalberg
Marc Staal-Dan Girardi
Keith Yandle-Kevin Klein
Brady Skjei-Dan Boyle
Posted on April 13, 2016, in Game Previews and tagged Carl Hagelin, Chris Kreider, Dan Girardi, Derek Stepan, Derick Brassard, Eric Staal, Fleury concussion, Fleury update, Henrik Lundqvist, Keith Yandle, Kris Letang, Madison Square Garden, Marc Staal, Marc-Andre Fleury, Matt Cullen, McDonagh Injury, MSG, New York Rangers, New York Rangers blog, NHL playoff bracket, NHL Playoffs, Nick Bonino, NYR, NYRvsPIT, Penguins playoffs, Phil Kessel, Rangers, Rangers blog, Rangers playoffs, Rangers vs Penguins, Rick Nash, Ryan McDonagh, Sidney Crosby, Stanley Cup Playoffs. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.