ECF Preview: New York Rangers vs. Montreal Canadiens

Screen Shot 2014-05-15 at 1.03.55 PMThe Eastern Conference Finals has two Original Six Clubs that haven’t won the Cup in 20 plus years. Montreal last lifted Lord Stanley’s Cup in 1993, and New York won it in 1994 (6/14/94 will be 20 years on the dot).

PLAYOFF STATS:

NYR:  GF (34) – GA (30) +4 – GFG (2.43) – GAG (2.14)
MTL:  GF (36) – GA (26) +10 – GFG (3.27) – GAG (2.36)

NYR: PP 10.9% – PK 82.9%
MTL: PP 26.3% – PK 80.0%

NYR 2014 Playoffs 5 on 5 (ExtraSkater)

NYR 2014 Playoffs 5 on 5 (ExtraSkater)

MTL 2014 Playoffs 5 on 5 (ExtraSkater)

MTL 2014 Playoffs 5 on 5 (ExtraSkater)

GOALTENDING

There is nothing negative to say about either goaltender in this series. Henrik Lundqvist and Carey Price are both leading candidates to win the Conn Smythe Trophy (MVP) for their teams.

Carey Price (l) and Henrik Lundqvist (r) won't be smiling in this series (AP Photo/Jonathan Hayward)

Carey Price (l) and Henrik Lundqvist (r) won’t be smiling in this series (AP Photo/Jonathan Hayward)

Carey Price is having a phenomenal season, one that already has an Olympic milestone in it. When he won Gold, his opponent at the other end was Sweden’s Henrik Lundqvist. In round one of this goaltending heavyweight matchup, Price came out on top. This Eastern Conference Final will be the last few rounds needed to determine the real winner. Price takes into this series a 2.15 GAA and a sparkling .926 SV%.

Henrik Lundqvist. (Yes, that’s a sentence) Is there a hotter goaltender in these NHL playoffs? He’s on fire with a 1.99 GAA and a .931 SV%. The King is building quite a resume in pressure packed playoff games. The last 12 times Lundqvist has been faced with elimination, he is 10-2, with a 1.32 GAA and a .957 SV%. Henrik is also the “King of Game 7”, having won 5 in row with a 1.00 GAA and .971 SV%.

The numbers speak for themselves as both these goalies are outstanding. Lundqvist gets the slight edge for having the better clutch track record.

Slight Edge – Rangers

OFFENSE

Marty St. Louis, Rick Nash and Brad Richards. You see the names for the Rangers up front and assume they are a scoring machine. That is not the case, as they continue to struggle on the offensive side this post season. Everyone knows the story of Rick Nash’s struggles with over 50 shots and zero goals in the playoffs. What people may not be aware of, is just how deep the Rangers are in offensive contributions.

Marty St. Louis is playing in his native Quebec (NHL)

Marty St. Louis is playing in his native Quebec (NHL)

NY was carried in the second round by the line of Derick Brassard, Benoit Pouliot and Mats Zuccarello (6 goals, 7 assists combined). A unit that was at one point their 3rd line. Matter of fact 20 of 22 skaters have contributed at least one point for NY this post season. Only John Moore and Raphael Diaz have yet to hit the score sheet.

As for the Canadiens, they are getting their fair share of scoring throughout the lineup. For Montreal, 19 of 21 of their skaters have contributed during this postseason run. Thomas Vanek leads the team with 5 goals and is their biggest threat up front. Mix in the likes of Lars Eller (4G), Brendan Gallagher (4G) and Max Pacioretty (3G) and there is much to be feared. However, many of their goals and points come from the Habs hot power play. Can they score 5 on 5? That will be the key.

Thomas Vanek has found a home in Montreal (nhl)

Thomas Vanek has found a home in Montreal (nhl)

Ultimately, these teams play the same type of offense. It’s all about quick transitions and using their speed. They love to mix it up as well, with beautiful rushes and zone entries. However, they also can play dump and chase to wear out a defense. Montreal is no doubt the hotter team offensively and gets the nod here. But be weary of the Rangers as they have two superstars in Rick Nash and Marty St. Louis still yet to explode.

Slight Edge – Canadiens

DEFENSE

PK Subban is a joy to watch play. He is Montreal’s leading scorer with 12 points in 11 games. His shot is probably top 3 in the NHL from the blue line, but he can make mistakes defensively. His skating ability covers up for plenty of that, but can it against a fast Rangers team? Subban is also undisciplined at times with 16 penalty minutes this post season, so guys like Dominic Moore, Derek Dorsett and Brian Boyle could take him off his game. It will be interesting to see how Montreal’s defense can handle what the Rangers will throw at them, especially if Subban is in the box.

PK Subban will lead the Habs into the ECF (Getty)

PK Subban will lead the Habs into the ECF (Getty)

The Rangers’ Ryan McDonagh looks healthy again. His play against Crosby and Malkin in the final 3 games of that series was incredible. Paired with shutdown partner Dan Girardi, they held the NHL’s leading scorer (Crosby) to 1G, 2A and a -2 rating in 7 games. But it doesn’t stop there as Marc Staal and Anton Stralman were equally amazing against them. The Rangers also lead the league in blocked shots this post season. That was a huge factor against the Penguins and should be again versus Montreal.

Ryan McDonagh will need to be a rock versus MTL (NHL)

Ryan McDonagh will need to be a rock versus MTL (NHL)

While PK Subban is the best defenseman in the series, the best unit of 6 goes to the Rangers. Their ability to keep opponents to the outside is key to their success. Under the tutelage of Alain Vigneault, they have found an ability to now transition the puck quickly on offense. For those factors, the Rangers get the edge.

Edge – Rangers

SPECIAL TEAMS

If the Rangers have any hopes of winning this series, they need to stay out of the penalty box. The Montreal power play is the best in the playoffs. NY must keep this 5 on 5 if they want to win. PK Subban and Thomas Vanek have 9 goals combined this post season, 6 of which came on the man advantage. That is a telling story right there.

For the Canadiens, agitating the Rangers and drawing penalties are a must. Their ability to produce on the power play will be key to victory. If for any reason they can’t draw enough penalties, this magical run may end quick.

Big Edge – Montreal

PREDICTION

These two teams are about as evenly matched as any in the playoffs. NY lives off their speed and transition. In the event of a breakdown, they have Henrik Lundqvist in net. The real key for the Rangers is keeping the play 5 on 5. NY is averaging 3.85 minors per game this post season, Boston was averaging 4.66. Their inability to stay out of the box versus a lethal power play was their downfall.

The Canadiens have home ice, and there is no place in the world like Montreal for a hockey game. However, they are now facing the NHL’s best road team in the regular season. Does that negate the advantage? Even if that is unclear, what is crystal clear for Montreal is their power play. If they can get the Rangers to take as many penalties as Boston, they may be on their way back to the Finals.

Montreal certainly has a lot of things going for themselves. But this series will come down to two factors, Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers struggling stars. Rick Nash and Marty St. Louis will play to their capabilities this series. The combination of their scoring with NY’s offensive depth will be a huge factor versus the Canadiens. As for Lundqvist, his bitter defeat to the hands of the NJ Devils in the ECF two years ago, will give him extra motivation. It’s an incentive the Canadiens will wish he didn’t have.

NEW YORK RANGERS IN 6 GAMES!

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