DK: Coming off their respective Game 7 victories, two old foes meet again. The Capitals have been the culprit responsible for the Rangers' last two playoff exits, but this time they come in with opposite roles. Despite being pushed to the brink by a scrappy Ottawa Senators team, the Rangers emerge into the second round as favorites to come out of the East. We wondered how the Capitals would react to their role as underdogs in their playoff round against Boston, and they came out with a "nothing to lose" mentality that makes underdogs dangerous. Joel Ward netted an OT winner in Game 7 to propel them into round two. Kudos, bro!
The Rangers are going to need their primary scorers to be exactly that. Ottawa's strong defensive core was able to minimize the damage created by star players Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards during the first round. To the point where both of New York's Game 7 goals were scored by defensemen. They will need to continue to get contributions from secondary scorers, but if the Rangers want to advance in these playoffs, the heavy hitters are going to need to step up. This matchup fares better for the Rangers' top scorers, as Washington's defense tends to take more risks and attempts to chip in on the offensive side. Dale Hunter's men will need to adjust, because the Rangers have a few skaters with breakout speed and many set plays in their arsenal designed to free the likes of Carl Hagelin, Marian Gaborik, and newfound rookie sensation Chris Kreider in space.
On the offensive side, the Caps know they will have to score early and often. This Rangers team is very good with a lead - 100% of the time they've gone into the third with the lead this season they've won (via Bloomberg Sports). The Blue Shirts block so many shots, it's a wonder there are not more injuries. And even when a shot gets through the collection of sprawled out shot blockers, it still has to get passed goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. The Caps are better off having to defend, rather then chase the game. Not rocket science, but it works.
The Caps strategy in this series will be to sit the Rangers' questionable offense down, and take their goals as they come. And when you have the likes of Ovechkin, Backstrom and Semin skating for you, the goals will inevitably come.
Previous series between these two have left New York with a bad taste in their mouths. And they learned a lot in that Ottawa series. Young players like Derek Stepan and Chris Kreider noticeably improved their game throughout the series, and that only figures to continue. This is their series to lose, and John Tortarella does not tolerate mistakes. Don't expect to see many from the Rangers.
New York in 5
JK: Both teams come off of Game 7 victories, and both teams will get no rest. Some see that as a benefit though, as both can ride their Game 7 momentum into thte next round. For the Capitals, it all revolves around Ovie. Alex Ovechkin is a star, and, as the Rangers have witnessed first hand, can take over a series. The last two playoff appearances by the Rangers have been foiled by the Capitals, now, they face them for a third consecutive playoff run, and are out for revenge. Washington knows they can beat the Rangers. To clinch their playoff berth, they dominated the Rangers in a 4-1 victory in the last game of the regular season, and split the season series overall. Alongside Ovechkin, a talented group including the likes of Niklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin give the Caps some talented weapons up front. In winning their first round series against the defending champions though, it was grit that got it done. Joel Ward, a role player who scored the OT winner, which was so beautifully ugly. The Caps are typically known for the flash and style on the ice. Their Defense has been questioned though. A defense, that is a great offensive weapon. Guys like Mike Green John Carlson and Dennis Wideman have a knack for the net. But their coverage is vulnerable. Their best defense is a good offense and they can handle it, especially if standout young goalie Branden Holtby continues his stellar playoffs.
The Rangers, as the #1 seed, had a tougher time than many though against a Senators team whose determination kept them in, and almost won them a series. But now the Rangers are off to a new capital city and are on a roll. Brad Richards has been a threat on the power play, but the Rangers will hope he steps his game up another level. He leads the team in points these playoffs, and he has the skill to make things happen. Their power play, which struggled for much of the year, seems to have new life, and that's Richard's game. Marian Gaborik has as much talent as anyone in this league, and the Rangers need him to get back to his best form.
But where Gaborik has slowed, so many others have picked up the pace. Anton Stralman, an early season free agent signing who was released from a tryout with the Devils has provided some unbelievable depth for the Rangers and has earned an increase in ice time. Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh make up what might be the best defensive pair in hockey and the rest of the Rangers D is more than pulling their weight. Captain Ryan Callahan plays the game #therightway and grit from tough guy Brandon Prust might have been the turning point in Game 6. All of this is, of course, in front of Henrik Lundqvist. Nominated for the Hart trophy for MVP, Lundqvist gives the Rangers at least one advantage in any game they play.
When the Rangers are at their best, they can beat any team in this League. Although it was a tough series against a 8th seeded team that they should have beat, it might have been a real wake up call. From the midpoint of Game 6 on, New York got back to their blue collar game, and that's been nothing but successful for them. Washington is a tough matchup, but the Rangers want revenge and they are in the perfect spot to get it.
Rangers in 6
(5) Philadelphia Flyers vs. (6) New Jersey Devils
DK: After one of the most intense and unpredictable series in the first round, the Philadelphia Flyers find themselves in another playoff matchup against a division rival. Expect another physical matchup, as is the norm when these two teams take the bus up and down the NJ Turnpike to face each other.
It will be not as easy to sneak pucks passed Martin BROdeur. The Devils can stand up to the Flyers physically, and Bryzgalov pales in comparison to Marty. My one concern for NJ is the fact that it took two OTs in Game 7 to knock out the Panthers, who are not a very good hockey team. Credit to the Panthers, though, for standing up to that team and coming within a lucky bounce of eliminating them.
I could name names, and go into the fact that Clarkson and Hartnell don't like each other. I could talk about the fact that they split the regular season 3-3. But the fact of the matter is Philadelphia's goaltending is weak. That wont fly. Not in round two.
Devils in 6
JK: New Jersey had the matchup that every team not winning their division wanted. The coveted number six spot, facing the Florida Panthers. The Panthers, though, made the Devils sweat. It took a double OT Game 7 winner to finish the series. Quite the thriller.
Martin Broduer is the greatest goalie to ever play the game and when he's backstopping you in the playoffs you always have a shot. In addition to Broduer, the Devils, who have always been known as a defense first (and sometimes only) team have quite the offensive arsenal this year. Travis Zajac leads the team in points these playoffs. Grit guys like David Clarkson have stepped up, always a crucial aspect of any playoff run. Ilya Kovalchuk is elite and Zach Parise is as well. A couple years ago, the Devils lost star forward Brian Gionta to free agency. Now, his younger brother Stephen is finding a niche on this team and doing just fine. Defensively though, the Devils could be better. Adam Larrson is a good young Dman but there isn't too much to that blueline.
Fortunately for the Devils, the Flyers have a similar problem. As tough and heated as that series was, it showed a major flaw in the Flyers armor. Their goaltending can be god awful. keeping pucks out of the net could be a problem. Kimmo Timmonen, Bradyon Coburn, Matt Carle, all pretty good Dmen in their own right. The fiasco in the last series, which included a Flyers loss where they conceded 10 goals, was almost unbearable as a hockey fan to watch. The final two games though, they conceded only four goals. quite the differnece from the usual four or five per game they were seeing. Offensively, Claude Giroux has carried this team all year and dominated the series. Contributions from guys like Wayne Simmonds, Danny Briere, Jakub Voracek and Scott Hartnell are amazing and Jaromir Jagr has the experience. He notched over a point per game in the series, one of five Flyers to reach that goal. If they can get their goaltending sorted out, the Flyers are a serious threat in this series.
Tough to pick a winner when you don't know which team is really gonna show up. I'm putting my money on the Flyers though.
Philly in 7
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