Last season, the New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens met in the NHL’s Eastern Conference Finals, with both making dark horse playoff runs. This time around, the Rangers and Canadiens are on a collision course for a rematch, each as division champions in the regular season. They both held serve in the first round of the playoffs, New York beating Pittsburgh in five games, while Montreal ousted Ottawa in six. Here’s how the favorites advanced…
NEW YORK BEATS PITTSBURGH IN 5
The Rangers defense has a good reputation, with its physical play and a great goaltender in Henrik Lundqvist. They backed it up in a showdown with the Penguins’ offensive stars, notably Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. New York’s defense allowed more than 30 shots on goal only once, that being Game 5 when the Pens were playing with desperation urgency. Lundqvist was in lockdown mode, delivering three successive 2-1 wins, two of the in overtime, to seal the series.
What’s most notable is how much the Rangers turned Crosby into a non-factor. Other than Game 2, when he scored two goals in Pittsburgh’s only win over the series, Crosby simply could not get shots off, being limited to one or two cracks at the net per game. As for Malkin, only in Game 5 did he consistently get his shots and he never made an impact on the series.
Defense defined this series, and while Pittsburgh’s D, along with goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, was better than they’ve been in recent postseasons, that’s still a style that decidedly favored New York. The Rangers have enough offense to win, with Derek Stepan, Rick Nash, Martin St. Louis and Derrick Brassard, whose three goals led the Rangers in this series. And they have the physical defense that can control games.
MONTREAL BEATS OTTAWA IN 6
There’s a very analytical, scientific explanation for why the Canadiens won this series–they have better hockey players than the Senators do. I hope I didn’t overcomplicate that too much.
Montreal won the skating battle in most every game of the series, averaging nearly 40 shots a game through the first five games. Moreover, the shots were consistently coming from their best players. P.K. Subban, a great offensive threat at defenseman, fired his lasers at the net. Max Pacioretty and Tomas Plekanec were consistently on the attack.
Ottawa made a goalie switch to Craig Anderson ,who held off the tide for a couple games, notably when he made 45 saves to win Game 5. But Montreal’s superior skating ability was too much to overcome.
The Canadiens have an elite goaltender in Carey Price, a candidate for the Vezina Trophy, as the NHL’s top goaltender. Price’s play was often so-so in this series, before he personally delivered the Game 6 win with 43 saves in a 2-0 win, the one game where his team lost the skating battle. He’ll need to be sharper moving forward.
New York will play the winner of the Washington-NY Islanders series, which will be settled in a Game 7 tonight (7:30, NBCSN). Montreal gets the winner of Detroit-Tampa Bay. The Red Wings go for a series clinch tonight in Game 6 (7, CNBC). A potential seventh game would be on Wednesday.