The 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs have arrived, so have Puck Daddy’s preview of all playoff series. Enjoy!
For the second time in four seasons the Canadiens and Rangers meet in the playoffs. Three years ago, the Eastern Conference crown was on the line, which New York took in six games against a mostly Carey Price-less Montreal side.
Price’s Game 1 injury robbed us of a great goaltending matchup, but here’s our second shot after a third straight 100-point season for the Rangers and a year for the Canadiens in which they turfed Michel Therrien to bring back Claude Julien.
Montreal won the Atlantic Division (47-26-9) after making the coaching change in February. There were three big contributors to their success, two of which weren’t even on the roster last season.
Alex Radulov signed a one-year deal in July after spending the last four seasons in the KHL and the move paid off for GM Marc Bergevin. Radulov showed he was a changed man and scored 18 goals and recorded 54 points. His enthusiasm on the ice endeared him to the Habs faithful. The bigger move was the June acquisition of Shea Weber in exchange for P.K. Subban. Weber had his typical strong offensive year with 17 goals and 42 points, 22 of which came via the power play.
The other big contribution came from an unlikely source. In his second year in Montreal, Paul Byron posted career numbers with 22 goals and 43 points. Not bad for a waiver wire pickup. Meanwhile, a healthy Carey Price meant good things for the Canadiens as he recorded a .935 even strength save percentage and posted three shutouts.
It was a tale of two seasons for the Rangers, who finished 48-28-6 (102 pts.) and in the first wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. After a very strong start, they hit a bump in late February and lost 13 of their final 21 games.
There was balanced scoring – 10 players hit double digits in goals – including a big surprise year from Michael Grabner (27 goals), though he’s scored just once since Feb. 9. So the depth could be there if it shows up, which will be needed against the Canadiens’ shutdown forwards.
Montreal Canadiens (A1) vs. New York Rangers (WC1)
• Wednesday, April 12, 7 p.m. ET, Rangers @ Canadiens | CBC, TVA Sports, NBCSN
• Friday, April 14, 7 p.m. ET, Rangers @ Canadiens | CBC, TVA Sports, USA
• Sunday, April 16, 7 p.m. ET, Canadiens @ Rangers | NBCSN, Sportsnet, TVA Sports
• Tuesday, April 18, 7 p.m. ET, Canadiens @ Rangers | NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports
• *Thursday, April 20, TBD, Rangers @ Canadiens | TBD
• *Saturday, April 22, TBD, Montreal @ Rangers | TBD
• *Monday, April 24, TBD, Rangers @ Canadiens | TBD
3 KEYS FOR THE CANADIENS
1 – Secondary scoring. Nine forwards scored double-digit goals this season, with Max Pacioretty (35) leading the way. But beyond the line featuring the captain, Philip Danault (13) and Radulov (18), there are some other weapons at Julien’s disposal. Byron (21) had a memorable year; Artturi Lehkonen (18) contributed nicely in his rookie season; and despite missing time with injury, Alex Galchenyuk had his best point-per-game season (44 points in 61 games).
2 – Kill it down a man. New York’s power play has been riding at a steady 20 percent clip all season, though it was six percentage points better away from Madison Square Garden. The Habs’ penalty kill has been much better under Julien, which this time of year is vital for having success.
3 – Shut the door. If the Canadiens can find themselves ahead after 40 minutes, that should equate to good news. They were 26-1-3 when leading after two periods this season.
*4 – Keep Chris Kreider away from Carey Price.
3 KEYS FOR THE RANGERS
1 – Stepping up of the D. The Rangers allowed 1,015 shots on goal since February, fifth-most in the NHL. Montreal averaged 30 shots per game but was middle of the pack in scoring with 2.72 goals per game. Montreal has plenty of scoring options, which will test New York’s blue line.
2 – Henrik needs to King. If Lundqvist experiences struggles that have plagued him throughout the season (with help from his defense), the Rangers are toast. New York’s only shot at advancing is King Henrik playing his expected Vezina calibre form because the guy at the other end of the rink won’t make anything easy.
3 – Get a little help up front. They need their secondary scorers to show up. Grabner has 1 goal in his last 23 games; Jimmy Vesey has two in his previous 24 games, and Kevin Hayes has scored twice in his last 25 games. All three had nice regular seasons, but they’ll need to find their scoring touches again.
5 STATS OF NOTE
1 – Montreal’s power play skidded from 21.4 percent under Therrien to 14.3 percent since Julien took over again. New York’s play with the extra man has been pretty consistent all season with a 20.2 percent success rate. The penalty kill, however, improved drastically after the Habs’ coaching change, going from 79.4 percent to a league-best 88.9 percent since Feb. 18.
2 – The Canadiens finished with the third-best Fenwick (52.4 percent), while the Rangers were down near the bottom at 48.8 percent, per Corsica.
3 – New York scored the fourth-most even strength goals (253) compared to Montreal’s 223.
4 – Call them the comeback kids. Montreal was the only NHL team this season with double digit wins (11-20-4) when trailing after two periods. The Rangers weren’t as fortunate with a 5-19-3 record when down after 40 minutes.
5 – 3.09 vs. 2.41. Those numbers represent the Rangers’ goals per game and the Canadiens’ goals allowed per game.
Canadiens in 5. Julien hasn’t been back in Montreal for long but he’s improved the team in many different areas. That will spell trouble for a Rangers side entering the playoffs with a struggling Lundqvist, who will be needed to have shot at advancing. The Habs’ turnaround continues to set up a spicy second-round matchup against the Boston Bruins.
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