NHL Playoffs: Rangers Must Confront Surprising Senators

Joe LaTengo | Updated Apr 08, 2012


They came within a game of winning the President’s Trophy, but that doesn’t matter now. The New York Rangers proved themselves to be the class of the Eastern Conference, and in the first round of the playoffs they will face an Ottawa Senators team which has confounded almost all predictions.

The Broadway Blueshirts benefited from many factors which went their way. They had the ferocious firepower of Slovakian sniper Marian Gaborik, who notched his third campaign of 40 or more goals and the second in his three seasons with New York. Henrik Lundqvist gave the club another stellar goaltending performance this season. The pride of Are, Sweden has never had less than 30 victories or a goals-against average over 2.43 in any of his seven seasons with the Rangers; this time, he even set new high marks with 39 wins and a 1.93 GAA. No wonder they call him “King.”

Behind it all is the brooding, explosive genius of head coach John Tortorella. Love him, hate him: he doesn’t care. He says what he thinks, but more importantly he designs the right plays and knows how to get the most out of his players. He does it his way, with intelligence and a passion that often gets him in trouble: he’s been fined $50,000 by the league in the last four months alone.

The supporting cast is no ragtag bunch, either. Appointing third-line winger Ryan Callahan proved to be a masterstroke: reports are glowing about Callahan’s involvement in the play on the ice and his ability to be in the right place at the right time. Throw in players like Derek Stepan, Artem Anisimov and bruising Brian Boyle, and you’ve got a roster that knows how to get the job done. They’ve also got a great defensive system featuring the maturing Michael Del Zotto and steady Dan Girardi. The bluline crew and Lundqvist have yielded the third-fewest goals against (178) and tallied the third-most shutouts (10) in the NHL.

The Ottawa Senators are just happy to make it into the Stanley Cup chase after being written off by all but a few at the start of the season. They clinched a playoff spot the weekend before, but ended their regular season with three losses in a row. Their group features a first-year head coach in Paul MacLean who steered his team to a 41-31-10 record and 92 points in the Northeast Division, and will likely be a candidate for the Jack Adams award as coach of the year.

A big part of their success is due to the emergence of young defenseman Erik Karlsson, who should be a lock for the Norris Trophy with 78 points in 81 games, 35 points more than his nearest competitors. He also managed a plus-17 rating and five of his 19 goals were game-winners, which tied him for second among blueliners.

They’re led up front by longtime captain Daniel Alfredsson and center Jason Spezza, whose 34 goals and 84 total points ranked fourth overall in the league, his best season since notching 34 scores and 92 points in 2007-08. A healthy Milan Michalek can also put the biscuit in the basket, as his 35 goals clearly demonstrate.

Where the two clubs seem to be most mismatched is between the pipes. Craig Anderson can steal a game, but he’s also capable of melting down. His inconsistent performances won’t remind anyone of Lundqvist or Brian Elliot, who has emerged as one of the game’s hottest young netminders since the Senators traded him to the Blues to get Anderson.

The NHL futures betting has the Rangers and the Senators at opposite ends of the scale. The Rangers appear to be too strong and too deep for the Senators to handle; but as mentioned earlier, the Senators have fooled the prognosticators before. With all cylinders firing, the Sens could take a game or even two in this series, but it seems most likely that New York should be able to close this out in five games.