So the New York Rangers will play the Pittsburgh Penguins in Round 2 of the Stanley Cup playoffs because the NHL mandated that somebody had to win the first round. Apparently, the league frowns on the notion of both teams losing a series.
But if the Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers would have had their way, they might have found a way to do it. Neither team was able to win consecutive games, neither was able to seize any kind of momentum and neither team looked particularly imposing in the least compelling series of the first round between arguably the two worst teams in this year’s playoffs.
The Rangers managed to close out the series with a 2-1 win in Game 7, which should come as no surprise to anyone who is aware of the Rangers and Henrik Lundqvist’s record in the most crucial game of a series. That particular quality could serve them well in the second round against Pittsburgh, if the series goes that far. And why wouldn’t it? The Penguins managed to stumble out of the first round themselves and are hardly in a class of world-beaters at the moment.
But they’re almost certainly more relieved to play the Rangers than their cross-state rivals, a team that gives them and goaltending Marc-Andre Fleury fits. Against the Rangers, the Penguins split the season series with each team winning two games, with one of those wins coming in a shootout. Against the Flyers, the Penguins went just 1-3-1.
It’s a difficult series to project, only because both teams have been so difficult to figure out in the post-season. For example, the leading scorers for both teams going into the series are defenseman Matt Niskanen and Paul Martin of the Penguins. Dan Carcillo currently has two more playoff goals than Sidney Crosby and Craig Adams is outscoring Rick Nash.
You’d have to think that will change in Round 2, but then again Crosby has gone 10 straight playoff games without a goal and Evgeni Malkin had no goals in this year’s playoffs until his hat trick in Game 6. Nash, on the other hand, generated a lot of good chances in Game 7 against Philadelphia and finally showed up for the series, but has just one goal in 17 playoff games since he joined the Rangers.
Should Crosby and Malkin find their offensive games and Nash works as hard as he did in Game 7 and gets rewarded for it, this might just develop into a series worth watching. The Rangers enter the series with a decided advantage in goaltending and defense, but the Penguins have an advantage when it comes to offensive production.
Another thing that should make the series compelling is special teams, simply because both teams have been so god awful killing penalties in the playoffs. The Rangers allowed six power-play goals on just 21 opportunities and are the second-worst penalty-killing team in the playoffs. The Penguins, with seven goals against in 27 shorthanded situations, aren’t much better. The Rangers are just as bad on the power play as they are on the penalty kill and while the Penguins have a much better power play, they have a penchant for giving up shorthanded goals. They gave up three against Columbus in Round 1.
So it’s pretty likely Round 2 between the Rangers and Penguins will not be an oil painting. But if you were watching the first rounds for either of these teams, luckily your eyes have become accustomed to watching sloppy hockey.