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Friday, May 16, 2014

Keep Calm & Carey On To Face The Rangers: Third Round Preview

Greetings Habs Addicts!

It feels like just yesterday we were sitting back and saying "Bye Bye, Bruins!" We were spending the day basking in the glory of knocking out the big, bad Bostonians. Most likely we were sporting some sort of Habs paraphernalia to school or work; just absolutely loving life.

Today we look forward to the next challenge that awaits us this coming Saturday afternoon at the Bell Centre: The New York Rangers and the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Habs have been in the Eastern Conference Finals in recent memory: Jaroslav Halak and the magical 2010 playoff run. That year the 8th seeded Habs stunned the President's Trophy winning Washington Capitals in seven games in the first round. In the second round, they proceeded to knock off Sidney Crosby and the 4th seeded - and defending Stanley Cup Champion - Pittsburgh Penguins in another hard-fought seven game series. The Eastern finals was where the magic ended. The Philadelphia Flyers made short work of the Habs, winning the series in five games before being knocked down in six games by the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup final.

Carey Price & Henrik Lundqvist
Photo Credit: sportsinteraction.com

This year is different. This year the Canadiens are not the 8th seeded underdog. The Canadiens had the third best record in the Eastern Conference (tied in points with Tampa). They just finished defeating the President's Trophy winning Boston Bruins; the league's best regular season team and a perennial playoff favorite. During the regular season, the Rangers and Habs played 3 extremely close games. All three games were ended in shutouts, two in favor of Montreal (1-0, 2-0); one for the Rangers (1-0). Statistically, a total of four goals were scored in the three games combined. During the shortened 2013 season, the Habs and Rangers met three times. The results: Montreal 3, Rangers 1; Montreal 3, Rangers 0; and Montreal 3, Rangers 0. The New York Rangers have scored two goals against the Montreal Canadiens in 6 match-ups over the past two seasons. They have been shutout two times. They have one win to show for it, a 1-0 shutout of their own by backup goaltender Cam Talbot this year.

Carey Price has simply owned the New York Rangers over the past two years with a 4-1 with three shutouts against the New York Rangers. He has allowed only two goals on 151 shots for a 0.40 goals-against average (GAA) and a .987 save percentage (Save %). For his career, Price sports an 8-5-1 record with a 2.04 GAA and a .934 Save % with 5 shutouts in 15 career games.

Henrik Lundqvist has not had quite that same success against the Montreal Canadiens. In 28 career games, King Henrik has a 13-1-2 record with a 2.85 GAA and a .897 Save % and one shutout. In Montreal, Lundqvist has a 4-5-2 record along with a 3.87 GAA and .876 Save % and has not played in a game at the Bell Centre since January of the 2011/12 NHL season.

Going into the Boston series, Carey Price had better career numbers against the Bruins than Tuukka Rask did against Montreal. The way the series played out, it was evident that sometimes a goaltender does not match up well against certain teams. Goalies are interesting psychological specimen. Whether or not their past performances against the respective team played on their minds, the series resulted with Price looking stellar and confident while Rask was often shaky. Needless to say, the numbers heading into this series certainly favor Carey Price over Henrik Lundqvist in the rematch of Sochi Olympic Gold Medal Goaltenders. That was also a game won by Carey Price.

Teams At A Glance

Montreal finished 9th overall (4th in the East) in the NHL with 100 points on the season, tied with the Los Angeles Kings. The Canadiens were stingy in their own right, allowing only 204 goals against; 6th best in the league. Montreal's even strength offense was not good this year. Overall, the Habs scored only 215 goals which was only good enough to rank them 21st in the league. Montreal made quick work of the favoured Tampa Bay Lightning, sweeping the first round series 4-0. The Boston Bruins were a far more formidable challenge but the Habs prevailed winning the second-round series in seven games. 

The New York Rangers finished the year with a record of 45-31-6, good enough for 96 points and placing them 12th overall in the NHL (5th in the East). The Rangers defensively were stingier than the Canadiens, allowing only 193 goals against which was 4th best in the league. Offensively, the Rangers were slightly better than the Canadiens with 218 goals scored which places them 18th overall in the NHL. The Rangers faced the Philadelphia Flyers at home for the first round of the playoffs, alternating wins and losses before finally ending the series in seven games. In the second round, the Rangers rallied back from a 3-1 series deficit to stun the Pittsburgh Penguins in seven games. The Rangers enter this round of the playoffs having played three more games than Montreal. 

Previewing Round Three

- Martin St. Louis lost his mother last week suddenly. He flew home to Montreal to be with his family and promptly returned to the lineup in time for Game 5, which the Rangers rallied to win 5-1. They carried this momentum over through Game 6 and 7 to stun the Penguins. Whether or not this emotion carries over to this series is hard to assess. It will certainly be emotional for the Laval native playing in his hometown to open the series. St. Louis had only 1 goal and 8 points in 19 games after being acquired by the Rangers from Tampa Bay at the trade deadline for Ryan Callahan. In the playoffs, St. Louis has reunited with former Tampa teammate Brad Richards to put up eight and nine points respectively in 14 games.

- P.K Subban is coming off a series to remember against the Boston Bruins. Subban has come into his own these playoffs and is back playing at the level that won him the Norris Trophy last season. He has been extremely responsible in his own end and has played a physical game as well. Subban leads the Canadiens in scoring this post-season with four goals and 12 points in 11 games played. Subban had four goals and seven points in the Boston series.

- This series marks the return of former first-round draft choice Ryan McDonagh to Montreal. Habs fans will remember that McDonagh was involved in the ill-fated Scott Gomez trade and has since blossomed into one of the NHL's top defenders. McDonagh is the Rangers answer to P.K. Subban as he finished the year with 14 goals and 44 points in 77 games. While Subban is one of the leagues best power-play quarterbacks, McDonagh scored more short-handed goals (3) than power-play goals (2) and is arguably the better all-around player when you factor in his penalty-killing abilities. 

- The Rangers top line of Benoit Pouliot - Derek Brassard - Mats Zuccarello had a dominant series against the Penguins. The trio has combined for ten goals and 23 points in the playoffs with three game winning goals between them. The Canadiens top line of Thomas Vanek - David Desharnais - Max Pacioretty has been quiet so far in the post-season, but stepped up in the pivotal games against Boston. For the playoffs, they have combined for nine goals and 20 points with only two game winning goals. Both of them were scored by Pacioretty and both ended up being the series winning goals. Montreal needs this line to outplay their Rangers counterparts at even strength as the Habs trio have five power-play goals between them while the Rangers trio does their damage at even strength with only one power-play goal between them. 

Summary

Offense: The Rangers and Canadiens were two of the weaker offensive teams during the regular season. Both made significant upgrades at the trade deadline with the Rangers acquiring reigning Art Ross Trophy winner Martin St. Louis while the Habs added Thomas Vanek. Vanek performed as expected and teamed up with Max Pacioretty to form a dangerous duo down the stretch while St. Louis found it more difficult to fit in to the Rangers lineup. Both have been average during this playoff run. Montreal has had balanced scoring with Dale Weise, Brendan Gallagher, Rene Bourque and Lars Eller all contributing offensively. The Rangers scoring has come primarily from their top line of Derek Brassard, Benoit Pouliot and Mats Zuccarello with support from St. Louis and Brad Richards. Sniper Rick Nash has been a bust this post season with zero goals and five assists in 14 games but can break out at any time. He is still dangerous even if he has declined over the past couple of seasons in New York.

Edge: Montreal; slightly due to balanced scoring.

Defense: Outside of Ryan McDonagh, the Rangers do not have any other true offensive options. Dan Girardi was the second-highest scoring defender for the Rangers with only five goals and 24 points in 81 games played. While they do not receive much offensive support from the blueline, the Rangers are one of the leagues best shot-blocking teams and players such as Girardi, Mark Staal and Anton Stralman can move the puck. The Canadiens are led by P.K Subban who unlike McDonagh (one goal, three points in 14 games) has increased his scoring output in the post-season. Andrei Markov has been quiet, but is still one of the more dangerous power-play specialists while Mike Weaver has contributed unexpected offense to balance out this shot-blocking and penalty killing. Josh Gorges and Alexei Emelin have been blocking shots and Emelin has been playing extremely physical with seven hits in the Boston Game 7 alone. Nathan Beaulieu entered the lineup and added a puck moving dimension to the third pairing that was lacking with Douglas Murray or Francis Bouillon in the line-up. Michel Therrien has limited the rookie to under ten minutes per game so far, but he has responded with two assists.

Edge: Montreal

Goaltending: Carey Price against Henrik Lundqvist is a battle of the leagues top goaltenders and an extended rematch of this past years Sochi Olympic gold-medal game. Team Canada and Price defeated Team Sweden and Lundvist and so far this season, Price has allowed only two goals in five elimination-game scenarios (three at the Olympics, two against Boston). Price has a better career record against the Rangers where King Henrik has struggled against the Canadiens, especially in Montreal. A hot goaltender can steal a series and both goalies got hot at the right time. Price stole one from Boston and Lundqvist stole the series from Pittsburgh.

Edge: Even

Coaching: Alain Vigneault has the Rangers playing solid hockey right now. Vigneault is no stranger to the post-season or the atmosphere of the Bell Centre and he will have his team prepared. The Rangers are a very defensive minded team, not as physical as the Bruins but will battle for pucks in the corner. He has some big bodies in Brian Boyle, Benoit Pouliot and Chris Kreider to win puck battles in the corners and get to the front of the net, much like the Bruins did with Lucic and Iginla. Michel Therrien has coached incredibly well this post-season and has made some question decisions and taken some gambles that paid off. Inserting Murray to the line-up probably will not happen again as Nathan Beaulieu should remain on the blue line. Both coaches have made it to the Stanley Cup finals; neither has won.

Edge: Even

Prediction: Both of these teams match up pretty evenly. They were pretty average offensively all season long. Defensively, both are extremely adept at killing penalties. The Rangers will need to find an answer for P.K. Subban and Max Pacioretty seems to be finding his scoring touch. When Pacioretty gets hot, it will be bad news for the Rangers as him and Thomas Vanek can take over a game. Defensively, the Canadiens are receiving far more offensive production from their blue line and that will be a difference. Ultimately, this series will come down to the battle of the goaltenders again. Carey Price shines against the Rangers and will continue to prove he's the best goaltender in the world and the Habs win the series in six games.

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Nick Malofy is a transplanted Montrealer, currently living in evil LeafLand. He is a contributor here at HabsAddict.com and give him a follow, as he can often be found rambling on Twitter.

1 comments:

When Nash gets hot, it will be bad news for the Habs...LGR!!!

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