EASTERN CONFERENCE FINAL PREVIEW: MONTREAL vs. NEW YORK
NY RANGERS vs. MONTREAL
Montreal: Thomas Vanek, David Desharnais, Max Pacioretty, P. K. Subban, Andrei Markov, Carey Price
New York: Martin St. Louis, Rick Nash, Ryan McDonagh, Henrik Lundqvist
Montreal: Brenden Gallagher, Daniel Briere, Tomas Plekanec, Brian Gionta, Lars Eller
New York: Mats Zuccarello, Derick Brassard, Derek Stepan, Brian Boyle, Benoit Pouliot
Notes: Halfway home for both of these Original Six teams! Not many gave the Montreal Canadiens a chance against the Boston Bruins but they came up big. Actually, both the Canadiens and the Rangers came up with tremendous Game 7 victories on the road. The Rangers, after being down 3 games to 1, had the Pittsburgh Penguins fire their coach after their historic comeback. The Canadiens had some Bruins talking some controversial smack immediately following their elimination, but it’s the Canadiens who get a chance to talk some more while the Bruins head for the golf course.
The Canadiens have quite a few veterans with playoff experience in the likes of Gionta, Plekanec & Vanek, but it may come down to the play of Desharnais & Pacioretty, along with Vanek, who came to life in the last two games of the Bruins series with a combined 7 points in those two crucial games. They can be the difference for the Habs, but they will be facing another elite NHL goaltender in Lundqvist who is playing at the top of his game now, as is Price.
The Rangers come at you the same way as the Bruins do with four lines capable of scoring but are responsible defensively. In the last 3 games against Pittsburgh, Brassard (3G, A), Zuccarello (3A), Richards (G, A) and St. Louis(2G, A) were the biggest point-getters for the Rangers and if they can get Nash going, who has the most SOG in the playoffs with 52, the Blueshirts will be tough be beat. The experienced playoff players for the Rangers came up big in crunch time and if that continues, the Canadiens will be hard-pressed to move on to the Cup Finals.
On the defensive side, it may all come down to how much can the Rangers contain Mr. Subban? Montreal comes at you with Subban (12 pts in 11 games) & Markov (5 pts) and if the Rangers can shut down Subban, they contain a lot of the Montreal offense. The Rangers don’t have a dynamic defenseman like the Habs do, but their top 6 contribute across the board both offensively and defensively. They have shown the ability to jump into the play and even get deep into the offensive zone, as the Ranger forwards are responsible defensively.
To get this far in the Stanley Cup playoffs you need a hot goalie so there isn’t much to say on that end for this series. What it will all boil down to is which goalie can make the last save. Both have shown what they are capable of in big games and both are playing with extreme confidence. What a great Conference Finals for the NHL having two Original Six teams battling it out to get one step closer to the Cup.
PRIME PREDICTION: New York in 7
Both teams are playing with confidence, emanating from the goal out. And why wouldn’t they be especially after beating the likes of regular season leaders Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins.This will be some series! Both these teams pack a lot of speed along with some tenacious defense in support of their goaltenders. Each has their blend of playoff experienced veterans and talented rising stars, along with the ‘in-the-trenches’ work horses. It just may all come down to which team gets the fortunate bounces and breaks to go their way. Which goaltender will stay hot through this round? Will it be the Olympic Gold Medal winner Carey Price, or will it be the previous Olympic Gold Medal winner Henrik Lundqvist? The Rangers have been in this position before, recently as 2011-2012 when they lost to the New Jersey Devils in the conference finals. The Rangers need to overcome the mystery of the Bell Centre that seems to be in their heads while the Canadiens need to solve the Rangers defense and shake Lundqvist’s confidence, which is not going to be an easy thing to do. I’m thinking that the Rangers, with Lundqvist propensity for playing huge in big games to shine through against the Habs. But what would a Rangers’ playoff series be if it didn’t go 7 games?