Round two of the Stanley Cup Playoffs features some great match-ups, like the Pittsburgh Penguins facing off against the New York Rangers. The teams aren’t as bitter towards each other as they used to be, but there is still animosity between the two teams. That is always likely to happen when two teams play so close to one another and have such star-studded teams.
The teams split their season series, with each team winning one game in regulation and the other win coming via the shootout. The Rangers outscored the Penguins 14-13 in those games. The Penguins were the preseason favorite to win the Metropolitan division, and they certainly made everyone who picked them look smart. They ran away with the Metropolitan, and the Rangers finished in a distant second.
The Penguins boast one of the most potent top sixes in the entire NHL. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal and Chris Kunitz are as good as any top four in the league. The scary part is that none of these players played particularly well in the first round. The problem for the Penguins has come from their bottom six forwards. A load of injuries has left Penguins coach Dan Bylsma shuffling player around in his bottom six. Brandon Sutter, arguably the Penguins’ most important bottom six forward, is questionable for the start of the series with an injury suffered in Game 6 against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The Rangers have their own cast of star top six forwards. Rick Nash, Martin St. Louis, Brad Richards and Derek Stepan are the four top forwards for the Rangers. Just like the Penguins, the Rangers haven’t gotten the production they would have liked to have had from their top guys. The Rangers do, however, have an advantage when it comes to forward depth. The third line, consisting of Derick Brassard, Mats Zuccarello and Benoit Pouliot, along with the fourth line of Dominic Moore, Brian Boyle and Derek Dorsett proved to be the difference in the first round.
The Penguins have had to deal with injuries to their defensemen all season long, but the majority of them are back now. Brooks Orpik is the only unknown right now with an undisclosed injury. Kris Letang, Paul Martin, Matt Niskanen and Rob Scuderi have played extremely well, while youngster Olli Maata has had an excellent rookie season.
For the Rangers, their top three defensemen are as good as it gets. Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh and Marc Staal have all played great this season. With that being said, Girardi and McDonagh both had rough first rounds. They both know they have another level, and both will be tasked with shutting down Crosby in this round. Anton Stralman started off the series slow but played an excellent Game 7, blocking shots like a madman and gaining an assist. Kevin Klein and John Moore don’t log the minutes the top four do, but they have played solid hockey so far this postseason.
The goaltending clearly favors the Rangers. Henrik Lundqvist wasn’t spectacular in the first round, but he did enough to get his team to round two. Lundqvist has the ability to steal games and will have to do that at some point against the Penguins. As for the Penguins, Marc-Andre Fleury is still a huge question mark. He had some great moments in round one, but once again he looked shaky at times. It doesn’t matter what the Penguins do offensively; if Fleury plays poorly they will not win.
Special teams is the Penguins’ biggest advantage. Their power play converted at a 20.7 percent clip in the first round, but the penalty kill was towards the bottom half of the league, only killing off 74.1 percent of the Blue Jackets’ power plays. The Rangers’ power play started off great, going 3-for-8, but then went cold, going 0-for-21 over the final five and a half games. The penalty kill was also subpar, only killing off 71.4 percent of the Flyers’ power plays.
This series has a lot of things going for it: Star players, a somewhat intense rivalry and, of course, the always unpredictable Fleury. When it is all said and done, the Penguins will be favorites, but the Rangers will push them. Expect this series to go six or seven games.