FullTilt Breakdown: Rangers vs. Penguins

Crosby and Lundqvist get set to battle in rd 2 (NHL)

Crosby and Lundqvist get set to battle in rd 2 (NHL)

The Rangers are set to take on the Penguins in another heated divisional rivalry. If New York wants to get to the Conference Finals they have to beat the entire State of Pennsylvania. As for Pittsburgh, they survived a surprisingly tough series against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

RD 1 STATS:

NYR:  GF (19) – GA (16) +3
PIT:  GF (21) – GA (18) +3

NYR: PP 10.3% – PK 71.4%
PIT: PP 20.7% – PK 74.1%

GOALTENDING

If this were the regular season, I’d say Lundqvist by a landslide. However, NY has it’s own issues in the post-season. Stringing wins together in the playoffs has eluded Lundqvist and in turn the Rangers.

Henrik Lundqvist will be focused (Getty Images)

Opposite Lundqvist stands Marc-Andre Fleury. Is there another active Stanley Cup winning goaltender that people have less confidence in? I don’t think so, but he has won it and he can rise to the occasion. Fleury’s biggest issue is he seems shaky in tight games, and has a tendency to let in a bad goal or two.

While I believe this is closer than people think, the edge goes to Lundqvist and the Rangers.  Simply because Henrik gives up less bad goals and has one of the best defenses in the league in front of him.

Edge – Rangers

OFFENSE

This is not even a debate. The Pittsburgh Penguins are the cream of the crop in the NHL offensively. Sidney Crosby was the leading scorer this season and Evgeni Malkin is no slouch. Malkin has 3 goals and 7 points in 6 playoff games, netting a hat-trick in the final game against CBJ. Meanwhile, Crosby only had 6 assists as he was heavily checked by Brandon Dubinsky all series. The Rangers will need to minimize their damage and hope Jussi Jokinen, Chris Kunitz and James Neal don’t pick up the slack.

Will Sidney Crosby erupt in this series? (NHL)

As for the Rangers, the gap is not as far as you think. The trade deadline acquisition of Marty St. Louis added a bullet in NY’s chamber that can kill any team. MSL has 2 goals and 6 points to lead the team. Brad Richards is tied with exactly the same stats, but the key for NY is the contributions are coming from all 4 lines. Dominic Moore, Daniel Carcillo and Brian Boyle are all chipping in. More importantly, they are doing it mostly 5 on 5.

If NY wants to advance, they need the scoring from everywhere to hold up. Pittsburgh will score, it’s just a question of what they give up.

Edge – Penguins

DEFENSE

Ryan McDonagh looks healthy and played dominant defense with partner Dan Girardi in game 7. Those two will see tons of Sidney Crosby and will give 87 fits.  The key defensemen in this series will by the pairing of Marc Staal and Anton Stralman. The two elevated their play against Philadelphia and were key cogs in shutting down the Flyers 5 on 5. Along with Kevin Klein and John Moore, NY held the high scoring Flyers to just 10 even strength goals.

The Pens defense can do one thing really well, score. Matter of fact, Matt Niskanen and Paul  Martin lead the team in scoring with 8 points a piece in the first round. The problem is they also have been known to cough up pucks and blow coverages all over the ice. The Pittsburgh blue line is a threat, for both teams.

Big Edge – Rangers

SPECIAL TEAMS

If the Rangers have any hopes of winning this series, they need to stay out of the penalty box. The Pittsburgh power play is deadly and the Rangers penalty kill has been shoddy. Mix those two together and it spells T-R-O-U-B-L-E in big capital letters for the Rangers.

NY also needs to fix their woeful power play. Pittsburgh will take their fair share of penalties, but they will keep taking them if the Rangers fail to score.

Big Edge – Penguins

PREDICTION

This will not be an easy series for either team, especially the Rangers. The schedule favors the Pens. NY’s inability to close out game 6 in Philly, led to a game 7 the next night in NY. Now, on one days rest they hop into their next series.

As for Pittsburgh, they haven’t played since Monday. The schedule also calls for a back to back in games 2 and 3 (Sunday/Monday). That has the Rangers with 7 games in 11 days under their belts. A lot of hockey in this post-season already.

All the signs point to a Penguins win in this series. However, if Lundqvist can elevate his play to Olympic like levels and Marc-Andre Fleury lets in one bad goal too many. The result could be drastically different.

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS IN 7 GAMES! (I WANT TO BE WRONG!)

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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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