So, how many people predicted THIS matchup for the ECF? I don’t think many people saw an Eastern Conference Final series that did not include either Boston and/or Pittsburgh. I did predict prior to the second round that the Rangers would upset the Penguins, and I also said the Bruins would eliminate the Canadiens in seven games, but that I had very little confidence in picking Boston. So I almost got it right….almost.
Let’s get to it.
An “all Original Six” series is never a bad thing, and I don’t anticipate this one to be any different. The Rangers come into this series with a ton of confidence and momentum after storming back from a 3-1 series deficit to knock out Crosby and Malkin (I must admit that I was quite happy with that outcome). Henrik Lundqvist has continued to do what he does best, and that is keep the puck out of his net as well as anyone in the game. He ranks second this postseason in GAA and Save %. Only Corey Crawford has better numbers in those categories. Offensively, the Rangers are by far the worst team at scoring goals of any of the four teams remaining in the playoffs. They are averaging just 2.43 goals per game. While Rick Nash is still searching for his first goal of the playoffs, that’s not to say the rest of the Ranger forwards have been much better. The highest point total this postseason of any Ranger is 9 by Brad Richards. To compare, the Kings have four players with at least 11. New York absolutely has to step it up offensively if they want to advance, especially considering the fact that they’ll be going up against Carey Price. However, to neutralize their weak offense, the Rangers have the lowest GAA average in these playoffs. The phrase goes something like “defense wins championships,” so hopefully for New York’s sake that phrase will prove to be true. I think the keys for New York in this series will be slowing down PK Subban, who leads Montreal in points, and getting production from their third and fourth lines.
Montreal also comes into this series riding a huge wave of momentum after eliminating the President’s Trophy-winning Bruins in seven games. A surprising number of people actually picked the Canadiens to win that series, and sure enough here we are. How did the Habs do it? Well, they got some great goaltending from Carey Price throughout those seven games, their forechecking was relentless, their determination was through the roof, and they simply played with confidence. Those four things combine to make a great recipe for success (maybe something the Penguins might want to try in the future). PK Subban took his game to a totally new level against Boston and was undoubtedly Montreal’s MVP of that series. I doubt he’ll be able to play that same way this entire series against New York, so guys like Markov and Emelin are going to have to pick up their games even more. In goal, Carey Price has been stellar with 2.15 GAA and a .926 save %. Want an interesting and telling stat? Over the last six games that Price has started against New York, he has recorded FIVE shutouts and allowed just one goal total. Take a second to try and comprehend that… On offense, the Canadiens lead the playoffs by averaging 3.27 goals per game. Similar to the Rangers, their leading scorer, Subban, has 12 points in the playoffs, but he is the only guy in double digits. The next closest point total to Subban is 9, shared by Eller and Gallagher. The Canadiens cannot rely on PK Subban to carry their offense anymore. They need their top forwards (Vanek, Pacioretty) to take the lead on the offensive side. If they can get more offense from their top lines, as well as their bottom two lines, they’ll be in good shape. The key is just finding a way to get pucks past Lundqvist.
I think this should be a great series. A lot of people think that the passing of Martin St. Louis’ mother helped propel the Rangers to their comeback over Pittsburgh. Whether or not that is true, they are playing great hockey right now, but so is Montreal. It takes a hell of an effort to beat the President’s Trophy winner in a seven-game series, but the Habs did it. Both teams have incredible home-ice advantages, so winning on the road in this series will be huge. Much like the matchups in the second round, the outcome of this one is tough to determine.
-Montreal wins series, 4-2.
I’ll be back with my Blackhawks-Kings prediction sometime before the first puck-drop of that series.