FullTilt Breakdown: Rangers vs. Penguins Rd1
The Rangers are set to take on the Penguins to open the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs. If New York wants to show the world they are a legit Cup contender, dispatching the Penguins quickly will do just that. It will also help going into the 2nd round as the series between the Washington Capitals and New York Islanders will likely be long and brutal.
As for Pittsburgh, they barely made it into the playoffs going 4-9-2 in their last 15 games. Injuries have decimated their blue-line and Malkin could be playing hurt. They are the clear underdog going in and have little pressure to win. That is their only advantage.
If the Penguins are going to win this series they will have to steal it from the Rangers. It’s plain and simple that Marc-Andre Fleury will need to be the MVP of round 1 if Pittsburgh wants to advance.
Fleury has had his moments in the Stanley Cup Playoffs as he did win the Cup in 2009. However, since that triumph there have been way too many shaky starts and bad goals in the post season to ignore. Considering the decimated defense in front of him, it simply may be too much to ask.
While at the other end, Henrik Lundqvist has returned from his vascular injury that caused him to miss the better part of two months this season. The injury now could be a blessing in disguise as this is the most rested Lundqvist has been heading into the postseason.
Big Edge – Rangers
This is not even a debate. The Pittsburgh Penguins have two of the best offensive players in the world. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are offensive dynamo’s but if Malkin is playing hurt this negates one of two threats for NY.
Add in the loss of three key defensemen to help transport the puck up ice and the problem worsens. Patric Hornqvist who scored 25 goals and 51 points in 64 games, will be looked at to pick up the slack. Anyone seen Chris Kunitz lately?
As for the Rangers, they rank 3rd in the league in goals for thanks to Rick Nash‘s tremendous 42 goal campaign, a career high. Chris Kreider and Martin St. Louis are tied for second on the team with 21 each.
The Rangers offense boasts 10 forwards out of 12 all in double digit goals. 8 of those 10 have 15 or better. It is this balanced offense and the continued impressive play of Kevin Hayes that gives the Rangers the edge.
Edge – Rangers
Ryan McDonagh and defense partner Dan Girardi will play big minutes against the Penguins two top lines. Marc Staal and Dan Boyle will likely see a lot of Sidney Crosby as well. Staal did an incredible job on Crosby last playoffs, holding him to just one goal.
Offensively, the Rangers have trade deadline acquisition, Keith Yandle to help lead the transition game and the rush. This lethal combination of offense and defense from the Rangers blue-line will be a top key in this series. When Kevin Klein returns it will only get better – scary.
The Pens defense can do one thing really well, score. Problem, Kris Letang, Olli Maata and Christian Ehrhoff are all out. This means aging defenseman, Paul Martin is going to be playing a lot. Ben Lovejoy will also be getting plenty of minutes and his slow footed skating ability will likely be exploited by a very fast Rangers forward group.
Big Edge – Rangers
The Rangers need to keep the Penguins off the power play. That is plain and simple as it could be a way for them to get back in games. Pittsburgh’s PP ranks 10th in the league, but that’s thanks to Kris Letang and a healthy Malkin. Things have changed now.
For the Blueshirts, this could be a quick series if their own power play that ranks 21st is just decent. Right now, it just isn’t working consistently enough to be considered a threat. Their PK on the other hand ranks 6th and can score shorthanded.
Edge – Even
The Penguins are hurting and slumping coming into this series. Yes, they may not have the pressure of being the favorites but the Rangers understand what it takes to win. Had they not lost in the Stanley Cup Final last season, I could see the potential for a letdown by the Rangers – they are just too battle tested to be over confident.
New York has every advantage and I’m giving the Penguins one game in Pittsburgh out of courtesy and the fact that the referees are going to eventually cave in to Crosby’s whining.
NEW YORK RANGERS IN 5 GAMES!