NHL playoffs Round Two: Can the New York Rangers survive?

  • Pittsburgh lead New York 3-1
  • Canadiens and Bruins tied 2-2
  • Blackhawks and Kings lead Wild and Ducks 2-1

We’re part-way through Round Two of the Stanley Cup playoffs, and at least one team could be eliminated from the post-season by Friday. So, can the Rangers figure out a way to beat the Penguins? And over in Minnesota, will the Wild continue to win at home and tie things up with the Blackhawks? The weekend games are also looking good, as Montreal travels back to Boston tied at two games apiece, and LA looks to win one at home to stay ahead in their series against Anaheim.

New York Rangers vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

Penguins lead series 3-1, next game: Friday May 9, 7pm ET

The question for New York might seem to be: How do you solve a problem like the Penguins? It’s not. Instead, it’s: How do you solve a problem like your own power play? The Rangers have been terrible this post-season with the man advantage. On Wednesday night, the Rangers again couldn’t capitalize with the extra man, going 0-for-2 on the power play, which means they haven’t scored on the power play now in thirty-six – thirty-six! – tries. It’s not even just bad, it’s wretched. Worst of all? They allowed the Penguins a short-handed goal near the end of the second period, that gave the lead back to Pittsburgh and effectively solidified the position for the remainder of the game.

But the Rangers just aren’t scoring enough, generally, let alone on the power play. Rick Nash? Goalless these playoffs (he has only four assists). Martin St. Louis? Two goals, four assists. Brad Richards? Three goals, four assists. Not enough. They look tired, disengaged. The only member of the squad who still looks like he’s paying attention most of the time is goaltender Henrik Lundqvist (but that’s a familiar sentence). Though, as he did in Game 3 in New York, even when Lundqvist bails out his team over and over, they still give him nothing, and eventually he lets one in. It’s only been a matter of time.

So what can New York do to turn it around? Traffic, perhaps – put some bodies in front of Marc-Andre Fleury and start shooting. They can get physical – in a smart way, which they’re perfectly capable of doing, and did pull off a few times in Round 1 against the Flyers. And, it’s not an impossible task against Pittsburgh, either. In Game 1, the Rangers scored first and early (5 minutes into the first period), and hung on to win it in overtime, which took perseverance. Where did that go?

But the Penguins seem to be occupying some seriously dangerous headspace on the Ranger bench. Pittsburgh has a groove going against the Rangers (and are being helped along, as noted above). That’s a difficult funk from which to find release if the goals aren’t going your way.

The Penguins can finish off the Rangers Friday night back home in Pittsburgh. Odds are they will, unless Lundqvist saves them.

Montreal Canadiens vs. Boston Bruins

Series tied 2-2, next game: Saturday May 10, 7pm ET

Montreal hung on in Game 1 through one extra frame and finally sealed the win just inside of the second overtime, thanks to P.K. Subban. It was a huge win for the Habs, and obviously the fans back in Montreal went totally bonkers.

Canadiens win

But so did Bruins fans – just in a very different way. Many of them took to Twitter to post idiotic, racist remarks about Subban from the safety of their living rooms and barstools like the cowards they are. The Bruins fired back with a curt statement, calling the racist remarks “classless” and those who wrote them “ignorant”. Those people, the Bruins said (via president Cam Neely) were “in no way a reflection of anyone associated with the Bruins organization.” Subban took it surprisingly well, urging that no blame be placed on the passionate, non-moronic, Bruins fans (which earned grudging respect from those same people).

It was a weird moment, all in all. Bruins and Habs fans... agreeing?

Anyway, all of it, as you can see, served as somewhat of a distraction in this series from what’s been happening on the ice: some pretty great hockey. The Habs and Bruins have see-sawed in this series, trading wins on home and away ice – most recently Thursday night in Montreal, where the Bruins won the contest in overtime, 1-0.

By and large, however, it’s looked that Montreal has had the upper hand over the four games. Boston has battled (and won), but the Habs are proving perhaps a more difficult opponent than anticipated (as have Carey Price’s goalposts, which have practically made as many saves as he has). Montreal has managed to frustrate the Bruins, keeping their heavy bodies and physical, grind-out style of play up somewhere near the blue line where the shots are easier to block. In reply, the Habs have been scoring, from a number of people and at key moments. That, and Price playing very well between those fortunate pipes, has allowed Montreal to do something else quite important: hold a lead when they get it.

The question now is whether Thursday’s win before returning to Boston will have done enough to change the momentum in the series. The Bruins went into Thursday with their lines shifted around, and brought up Matt Fraser from Providence to try to add something to the physical game (and it’s a good thing, too – he scored the winner). Oh, and did I mention Tuukka Rask looked very good in goal Thursday? He did.

Saturday is the beginning of the series within the series – a best of three games. We can completely ignore the final regular season standings now if we hadn’t already. These are evenly-matched squads, and this series could go the distance to seven games. Which would be fine.

Chicago Blackhawks vs. Minnesota Wild

Chicago leads series 2-1, next game: Friday May 9, 9:30pm ET

Two games into this series, it looked like Chicago was in the driver’s seat. Game 1: 5-2 Chicago. Game 2: 4-1 Chicago. And... then came Game 3, which through the first two periods in Minneapolis remained scoreless, until the floodgates opened. Just under two minutes into the third frame, Erik Haula took a nifty pass from Justin Fontaine and put the Wild up 1-0. Less than three minutes later, Mikael Granlund netted one past Corey Crawford. Then, the Wild went on the power play, and Zach Parise got in on the action. Another from Granlund, this time an empty-netter, was how it all ended, 4-0.

Blackhawks vs Wild, Game Three

So what happened? The Wild hadn’t been completely out of the first two games, for one. They had some good chances against Chicago, especially in Game 2, but couldn’t capitalize (and Crawford was on his game). Part of the story in Game 3 was Wild goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, who made (only) 19 saves on his way to his first ever career playoff shoutout. Another part was that Minnesota’s big guns (ie. Parise and Granlund) showed off the goal-scoring we’re more accustomed to seeing. And, of course, part of it was Chicago. Brian Bickel and Brandon Saad were both stand-outs for the Blackhawks in Game 2, but were unable to keep that going, including in the latter case in the face-off circle. Saad won only 33% of his faceoffs in Game 3, where he’d won exactly half of them two nights before.

Perhaps what can make it so difficult to win against them when the Wild are playing well is a common theme amongst the team's top centermen, as Dave Campbell at the Associated Press noted Thursday: they’re all Finns, and think defensively. Here’s the Wild coach on the subject of Finnish pride, something he says is common among players from that country: “Part of that winning attitude is every play they take pride in making it happen, whether it’s a blocked shot or a faceoff or shutting somebody down or whatever they can do to help their team win.”

The solution? Knock them off their game, make them loosen up and create holes. For the Blackhawks that might mean being more physical, perhaps in the neutral zone to force some turnovers. And, though he had one good night, Chicago knows it can score on Bryzgalov, so they will be looking to shoot often and, unlike they did in Game 3, get a few more on the net.

One more note: serial knee destroyer, Matt Cooke, will return for Game 4.

Anaheim Ducks vs. LA Kings

Kings lead series 2-1, next game: Saturday May 10, 9:30pm ET

Whatever other highlights this series has given us, this is by far the most enjoyable: Ducks’ forward Corey Perry took advantage of an unattended glove as Kings’ forward Jeff Carter tended to his stick. The only thing to do? Squirt some water into it.

What happened to Jeff Carter's glove?

Through the first two games in this series, there were two parts to the story, both on the LA side of the ice. First, Jonathan Quick was on form. Over games 1 and 2, Quick saw 72 shots come his way, and turned aside all but three, landing him a .958 save percentage. He was there when the Kings needed him, keeping them in what were, arguably, relatively tight games.

HIs play was complemented up front in a big way by the Kings’ first line, of Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown and Marian Gaborik. In Game 2, Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau did what most coaches do, and matched his top forward line (Corey Perry-Ryan Getzlaf-Matt Belesky) with LA’s. But by the end of things, that was no longer the case. “I did it because Kopitar’s line was dominating them,” Boudreau explained later. That was a good way of putting it. Kopitar especially was a machine during those first two games in Anaheim (he nabbed three assists in Game 1 alone).

Game 3 was a similarly close-fought game (1-goal leads have been a characteristic of this series so far), but the Ducks found a way to finally win, taking it 3-1. It wasn’t a runaway victory, though. With the Ducks holding a 1-0 lead, thanks to a powerplay goal from Perry early in the first on a lovely play patiently set up by Getzlaf, the Kings countered on the man advantage roughly five minutes into the second. The tide really could have shifted then, but following a terrible change on the Anaheim bench during another power play (they somehow managed to put three defencemen on the ice), the Ducks got a break, emerged from their zone with the puck and Nick Bonino fed a nice pass to Teemu Selanne who did what he’s been doing for decades.

Selanne scores

It wasn’t all good news for Anaheim, though. Boudreau decided to start goalie Frederik Andersen. Perhaps it was because Jonas Hiller, the man between the pipes for them during the first two games, is 0-5-2 at the Staples Center in LA. Andersen, however, looked wobbly. Andersen left Round 1 against Dallas prior to Game 7, and with a mixed record in that series, backstopping two losing efforts on the road and getting pulled in Game 6. He left the game early again Thursday night, only this time with an injury. Depending how long he’s out, it could be trouble for the Ducks. To counter Quick at the other end, Hiller needs to be stellar. He’s been good – which might not be good enough.

NHL playoffs schedule


Colin Horgan

The GuardianTramp

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