This entire series will hinge on the Rangers performance in game 1

Karlsson battles Zuccarello (Getty)

The Rangers are ready to go in round two of the NHL playoffs. The same lineup that won games 4,5, and 6 against Montreal will start in Ottawa tonight. What we don’t know is what game the Rangers will be bringing with them.

The Knowns

Of all the silly things being talked about this series, like the bromance between Mats Zuccarello and Derick Brassard or who got the better of the trade this past offseason, the focus should be on Rangers not playing down to their opponent.

The one thing I am 100% confident in is that Henrik Lundqvist will bring his A+ game tonight. He could win this game 1-0 if he needs to, but that isn’t what the Rangers need. They require more of what Rick Nash has done on these playoffs as well.

I am fairly certain that Nash will continue his commitment to get to the net and create offense. His ability to power his way to the goal and use his size and hands were a big difference maker in games 4 and 5 against Montreal. That needs to continue.

On defense, I continue to see the Rangers playing as well as they did in the first round, if not better. Montreal was a more offensively gifted team in my estimation, but Ottawa certainly has players that can do damage like Brassard (8pts), Bobby Ryan(4g), and Erik Karlsson(6a). It will be up to the Rangers defensemen to keep them to the outside, while a forward remains up high to keep Karlsson in check.

I understand Boston had injuries, which probably impacted the series outcome, but the Rangers must respect this group as lethal. Any taking of the Senators lightly could lead to catastrophe.

The Unknowns

Paging Chris Kreider, paging J.T. Miller, paging Kevin Hayes! Yes, they played a little better towards the end of the series but the three of them have combined for only 1 assist each. So by my calculator, Tanner Glass has more goals than all three combined.

The Rangers need all three to become dominant in this series. Kreider can’t be a bystander, Miller can’t keep making high risk plays, and Hayes needs to play like he did in game 6 against Montreal every game. If those 3 can get going, this series will be over quickly.

Same goes for the PP! They were 1-1 for in the series clincher, so maybe it’s the start of something good. If the Rangers could just have a half decent PP against Ottawa, it could mean the world of a difference in resting before facing Pittsburgh or Washington.

My two major concerns are the following:

Will Marc Staal and Nick Holden start to improve? This is a slower lineup so maybe it will play to their advantage with size. Unless Guy Boucher tries to exploit that pairing with as much speed as they can handle in Ottawa.

Will the Rangers not fall for the Ottawa Trap? Yes, if you thought the Canadiens did a good job in the neutral zone and standing up at the line, the Senators will make you puke. The Rangers must be willing to go into the Ottawa Zone with a full head of steam, dump, and crush the first Senator to the puck. If the Rangers get to fancy, expect lots of turnovers and odd man rushes.

Don’t fall for it!

Game 1 Will Say A Lot

I laid a lot out there, but here’s the deal…I find it very difficult for the Rangers to lose this series. I’m not saying it’s impossible, just improbable. That being said, losing game one or winning it in unremarkable fashion could spell a long unnecessary series.

Now, if the Rangers can bring it and crush the Senators in game 1 in Ottawa, this series can be short. Like 4 or 5 games short, which could mean a huge advantage going into the ECF. That means the Rangers address all the unknowns I put forth above.

The Senators are all using the “underdog” tag for motivation. The fact of the matter is, it’s true! That means the Rangers need to put forth their absolute best effort tonight and drive the point home. A big win in game one, let’s say a 5-1 romp, and the Blueshirts could take game 2 as well with relative ease.

Home issues or not, a 2-0 lead coming into MSG almost ensures a short series and that huge advantage in round 3. All the Rangers need to do tonight is play like the big favorites they are.


Anthony Scultore has been covering the New York Rangers and the NHL since 2014. His work also appears at... More about Anthony Scultore

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