It’s approximately an hour before game time at the Bell Centre. The Rangers and Canadiens will drop the puck to kick off the 2017 NHL Playoffs. They are one of five first round series starting tonight. The others being Boston vs Ottawa, Columbus vs Pittsburgh in the East. The West feature two with St. Louis vs Minnesota and San Jose vs Edmonton.
The focus is on the Rangers and Canadiens. For the Blueshirts, it’s about earning a split in Montreal. If they can, then momentum can swing in their direction with Games 3 and 4 at MSG. During the season, they were a better road team going 27-12-2. However, they went 0-1 at Bell Centre losing 5-4 in a wild affair. The House of Horrors remains a tough building. Like they did in the 2014 Conference Final match-up, the Rangers must buck the trend. That means getting to Carey Price early and taking the crowd out of it.
It won’t be easy. The Habs are a good home team winning 24 games. They went 24-12-5. Breaking it down further, they outscored opponents 122-87. The Rangers were superb on the road outscoring opponents 125-97. Interestingly, eight of their nine shorthanded goals came away from home. It’s also worth noting that Montreal scored four of their five shorthanded goals at home. These are just trends during the season for both Original Six rivals to keep an eye on.
The Canadiens won the season series 3-0. Two of the games were decided by a goal. One in a shootout with Montreal prevailing 3-2 at The Garden on Feb. 21. The other on Jan. 14 up north which the Habs won 5-4. The last match was at now the oldest NHL building on March 4. A game dominated by a beefed up Montreal 4-1.
From the Rangers game notes, they have won five of the last six meetings in Montreal during the postseason. It dates back to ’96 when they won all three games there in a comeback from a 2-0 deficit in the first round. Of course, they took two of three in 2014 by dominating Games 1 and 2 before losing a wild Game Five 7-4.
If you’re looking for a good interview, here is the lovely MSG reporter Amanda Borges talking to one of the key young players for the Rangers in Brady Skjei, who will be in his second postseason after debuting against the Pens last year.
As expected, Skjei will be paired with Brendan Smith. The other two pairs are Ryan McDonagh-Dan Girardi and Marc Staal-Nick Holden. It’ll be interesting to see how Alain Vigneault micromanages the top two pairs. Particularly Staal-Holden, who can be exploited in their end. How the veteran coach adjusts in game will be crucial. Kevin Klein is a healthy scratch.
For a very good perspective on how to beat Price and how Henrik Lundqvist performed this year compared to last year, look no further than astute MSG analyst Steve Valiquette’s view below:
If it’s based on yesterday’s practice, here are the projected forwards for the Blueshirts:
Pavel Buchnevich was on the ice for warm ups as was Klein.
I don’t know the Montreal lines. But the top scoring line is centered by Phillip Danault and joined by top finisher Max Pacioretty and dangerous play maker Alex Radulov. They must be neutralized. Figure Vigneault to go head to head with the Stepan line and match McDonagh and Girardi as much as possible.
The Rangers must also key on net pests Brendan Gallagher, Andrew Shaw and Dwight King. Keep Lundqvist’s net clear and allow him to see the puck. That means the D must do a good job boxing out and not screening their own goalie. Something Holden has a tendency to do. It also means not too many snow angels from Girardi and Staal taking themselves out of the play. Stay on your feet. Protect the net.
Montreal has good secondary scorers with Paul Byron, Alex Galchenyuk and Artturi Lehkonen other players to watch. Of course, they also boast two big shots from the point in Shea Weber (12 of 17 goals on PP) and Andrei Markov. So, staying disciplined is a key.
It is not a must win scenario tonight. The job for the Blueshirts is to get one of two. Whether it’s tonight or Friday, that is the goal. That’s gonna do it for the pregame. Time to kick back, relax and enjoy playoff hockey. 😎