Three Storylines to Look For in Round Two
The New York Rangers, if you haven’t heard by now, are heading to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. After six intense and hard fought games against the Montreal Canadiens and their star goaltender Carey Price, the Rangers closed the series out and will now face the Ottawa Senators and star defensemen Erik Karlsson in the second round. You can view our second round preview here. There are three storylines that make this Rangers/Senators matchup extremely intriguing. This is going to be a fun one.
Craig Anderson and the Emotion Factor
Craig Anderson has had to deal with something this year that I hope no one reading this ever has to go through. Anderson’s wife Nicholle was diagnosed with cancer earlier in the season, and Anderson took a leave of absence from the team to be with his wife during a difficult time in their lives. And what did he do when he returned? He pitched a shutout against the Edmonton Oilers.
We’ve seen time and time again how emotion can drive players to perform on the biggest stages in the NHL. We as Rangers fans witnessed it first hand when Martin St. Louis’ mother passed away during the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs. With the Rangers down 3-2 in the series to the Pittsburgh Penguins, St. Louis scored the opening goal of game six, on Mother’s Day nonetheless, and the fight that St. Louis had in him rubbed off on the rest of the team, and carried them all the way to the Stanley Cup Final.
Anderson is a solid goaltender who has given the Rangers fits in the past. As his wife Nicholle sits in the stands, you know that he is going to give that much more of himself in this series for his team. Henrik Lundqvist is going to have to be just as good, if not better, for the Rangers to win this series. Emotions run high this time of year, and Craig Anderson is going to be fueled by it.
Mika Zibanejad and “Big Game” Brass
Alain Vigneault put it best when he said he was going to remind his players that “Brass” is not their friend over the next two weeks. Derick Brassard was a beloved Ranger during his time in the Big Apple. He scored some huge goals for the team, had a great relationship with the fans, and had a special relationship with our own Mats Zuccarello. He was the primary piece the Rangers got back from Columbus when they traded Marian Gaborik, and fans were in shock when he was traded away last summer for Mika Zibanejad.
Zibanejad has played well in his first season in New York, although a mid-season injury stopped us from seeing just how good he could be over an 82 game season. Zibanejad had a lackluster first few games of the playoffs, but assisted on Jesper Fast’s goal in game five and ultimately scored the game-winner in overtime. It was his biggest goal so far as a Blueshirt.
When two players are traded for each other, they are always compared. It’s natural for fans and analysts to want to keep up with both and see which team came out on top of a trade. This showdown between these two centermen, and their lines, will be a big part of this series.
The KZB line as it being called by some (Chris Kreider – Zibanejad – Pavel Buchnevich) has been solid since it was put back together for game four of the first round. There’s skill, size, and strength on the line, and all three guys compliment each other really well. Now only if Chris Kreider could get it going…
Brassard has primarily centered Bobby Ryan along with a rotating second winger of either Mark Stone, Mike Hoffman or Viktor Stalberg. Ryan has blossomed this postseason after a terrible regular season. Hoffman and Stone continue to be strong, skilled and fast young players, and Stalberg is always good for a goal here or there. Any combination of that line is just as deadly as the KZB line for the Rangers, and how these two lines ultimately perform will go a long way in determining the outcome of the series.
Erik Karlsson’s Foot
Typically, players don’t announce a major injury unless their team is eliminated or after they win the Stanley Cup. After defeating the Boston Bruins in the first round, it was revealed that Senators captain and Norris trophy winning defenseman Erik Karlsson has been dealing with two hairlines fractures in his foot. Karlsson is the key cog in the Ottawa Senators machine and if he is playing well, the team in front of him has every chance to win. You wouldn’t be wrong if you said Karlsson is possibly the best defensemen in hockey.
Now, what does this mean for the Rangers? It means they must take advantage of the fact that Erik Karlsson is not 100% healthy. Get pucks deep, grind it out on the boards, and don’t give him room to use his smooth skating ability. In the playoffs, there is barely any room to make plays as it is, but with Karlsson not feeling 100%, it’s on the Rangers to make life that much tougher for him. If the Rangers can find a way to quiet Karlsson, they will have a much bigger and better chance at coming out of this series on top.
There you have it; three storylines to follow as the Rangers and Senators get set to battle on Thursday night in game one.
LETS GO RANGERS!