(Ed. Note: With its new playoff format, the NHL is seeking to create passion for fans and teams through forced, bracketed relationships. But hey, at first glance, the matchups are pretty sexy. All of this led to one ideal theme for our 2014 Playoff Preview: Tinder, the social media dating app. We hope you swipe right this postseason ...)
The Pittsburgh Penguins and the New York Rangers both survived scares from underdog opponents in the first round, as the Blue Jackets
Pittsburgh Penguins (1) vs. New York Rangers (2)
May 2: NY Rangers at Pittsburgh Penguins, 7 p.m. ET
May 4: NY Rangers at Pittsburgh Penguins, 7:30 p.m. ET
May 5: Pittsburgh Penguins at New York Rangers, 7:30 p.m. ET
May 7: Pittsburgh Penguins at New York Rangers, 7:30 p.m. ET
May 9: NY Rangers at Pittsburgh Penguins, TBD*
May 11: Pittsburgh Penguins at New York Rangers, TBD*
May 13: New York Rangers at Pittsburgh Penguins, TBD*
Sidney Crosby had to deal with Brandon Dubinsky and Jack Johnson in the first round, and didn’t deal with it well: He had six assists but no goals, skating to a minus-2. Chris Kuntiz had two goals and three helpers in the series. The notion that this duo could be help in check for a second round is hard to imagine.
Evgeni Malkin came to life in Game 6 with a hat trick; now when does linemate James Neal (1 goal in 6 games) do the same?
Jussi Jokinen and Brandon Sutter, two net crashers, had three goals apiece against the Blue Jackets. Sutter and Joe Vitale were injured in Game 6 but were back at practice after the series. Beau Bennett (4 points) and Lee Stempniak (2 points) saw top six time. Craig Adams provided his usual veteran defensive effort, aided late in the series by Marcel Goc. Tanner Glass provided the muscle.
Marty St. Louis (6 points) and Brad Richards (6 points) led the Rangers in scoring, but St. Louis failed to tally a point in Games 6 and 7. Neither did Rick Nash (4 assists), who also failed to score in Games 4 and 5, either.
Derek Stepan, Mats Zuccarello, Carl Hagelin and Benoit Pouliot (4 points each) and Brian Boyle (3 points) provided support when the big guns didn’t fire. So did, inexplicably, Dan Carcillo (2 goals). Dominic Moore had three points and was an awesome 56.9 on faceoffs. Derek Brassard was yet to get going.
The two leading scorers for the Pittsburgh Penguins in the postseason? Defensemen, of course. Matt Niskanen (2 goals, 6 assists) and Paul Martin (8 assists) led all players after six games. Martin has also had a stellar postseason on the defensive side of things, skating 27:19 per night to a plus-7. He’s only been on the ice for one even strength goal against.
Kris Letang hasn’t been himself thus far in the postseason, with one goal in six games and a negative corsi-rel (minus-1.3%). Rookie Olli Maata has two points but was a liability in his own zone at times vs. Columbus. Rob Scuderi is skating 18:09 and had an un-characteristic six PIMs. Brooks Orpik played well until he was injured, as Robert Bortuzzo moved in.
The top defenseman for the Rangers (25:04) is Ryan McDonagh, although he didn’t have the strongest opening round based on possession numbers. His partner Dan Girardi also struggled a bit, although he added a goal and two helpers vs. the Flyers.
More effective were Marc Staal (2 points, plus-6) and Anton Stralman (2 points, plus-3), who had positive corsi ratings vs. the Flyers. Ditto John Moore and Kevin Klein, who were good in limited minutes.
It became rather evident against Columbus how Marc-Andre Fleury can be effective: When he’s controlling his rebounds, not attempting to play the puck much and when his defense collapses around him and clogs shooting lanes. That’s how he ended up with a .943 EVS% for the series, giving up only eight goals in six games at 5-on-5 on 140 shots.
But when a few of those things aren’t happening, he’s still an adventure.
The Flyers chased Henrik Lundqvist in Game 6, but he still ended up with a .940 EVS% for the series and was expectedly sharp in Game 7. Even an average Lundqvist gives the Rangers the edge here.
The Rangers needed seven games to dispatch the Flyers. The Penguins needed six games to take care of Columbus, and some might say survive them. But they had some extra rest that the Rangers didn’t have.
Dan Bylsma put Evgeni Malkin with Sidney Crosby when the Penguins needed a boost, and it paid off. Give him credit: Although he was out-coached by Todd Richards at times, he found a way to withstand the Jackets’ forecheck in Games 5 and 6.
Alain Vigneault hasn’t exactly cracked the code for the Rangers’ offense (2.71 GF) yet, but he kept things steady even when the Flyers appeared on the edge of taking over and making it an emotionally charged series.
The Penguins were 6-for-21 (20.7%) on the power play in Round 1 after leading the league at 23.4% in the regular season. Their penalty kill was 7-for-27 (74.1%) against Columbus, 12th in the playoffs.
The Rangers were 3-for-29 (10.3%) on the power play after finishing 15th in the NHL during the regular season (18.2%). The Rangers were 6-for-21 on the kill in Round 1, at 71.4 percent.
SERIES SLOW JAM
This slowed-down version of “Black And Yellow,” (SOME NSFW LYRICS) both because it’s a Pittsburgh anthem and because it resembles the pace of this series.
Players to watch.
SWIPE LEFT ON... James Neal. Even with Malkin warming up, we're wary about Neal in this series.
SWIPE RIGHT ON... Rick Nash. His posession numbers are off the charts and he got some good chances in Game 7. Matter of time.
Penguins in six. Assuming Crosby can score a goal, Fleury doesn’t Fleury this thing and that the Penguins learned a little about how to answer grit in that Blue Jackets series.