The matchup is set for the Eastern Conference Finals. The New York Rangers have learned their opponent will be the Montreal Canadiens after the Habs defeated the Boston Bruins in seven games. Both teams come into the series riding winning streaks and with a ton of confidence.
If there’s one thing the Rangers need to focus on, it’s stopping the Canadiens’ power play that has scored 10 goals in 11 playoff games this season. Bad play on special teams can doom any team in the playoffs; the Bruins found that out the hard way against Montreal.
Thomas Vanek and P.K. Subban have been the focal points of the potent Montreal power play, each scoring three goals in the second round. Eight of the team’s 10 goals with a man advantage came in the seven games against Boston.
The strength of New York’s special teams is their penalty kill, and they’ll be tested against the Canadiens. The Rangers must continue to play great on the penalty kill in order to neutralize Montreal’s greatest weapon.
New York doesn’t have to change a thing about their approach as they absolutely shut down the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round. The Penguins had the top-ranked power play during the regular season, but the Rangers held them to one power play goal in 20 attempts.
The Rangers accomplished that by blocking shots and pressuring the puck. New York blocked 119 shots in the second round, and that becomes twice as important on the penalty kill. Subban has an explosive slap shot, so the Rangers will need to deny him any space to shoot on the power play. The Rangers didn’t allow the Pens to cleanly enter the offensive zone on the power play, and that will be important in the third round.
They will also need to play hard on Vanek and keep him away from the front of the net where he’s most dangerous. Vanek scored two of his three power play goals on beautiful deflections when he was camped out in front of Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask. The Rangers need to try and keep him away from the crease, which is easier said than done.
New York’s top defensive pair of Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh will need to continue their sound play. Girardi has been the Rangers’ best shot-blocker in the playoffs, and McDonagh has gotten stronger as the playoffs have progressed. McDonagh returned from injury for Game 1 of the first round, and he didn’t seem to play with the same physicality we’re used to seeing but has returned to form of late.
The Rangers haven’t allowed a power play goal in their last five games, and it will continue to play a huge role in determining their fate in the postseason. They need to play smart and avoid stupid penalties in order to limit Montreal’s chances. No team is going to play an entire series without taking penalties, but New York can’t afford to take too many in any one game.
If the Rangers can limit the Montreal power play, their chances of advancing to the Stanley Cup Finals will greatly increase.