Had chalk held, we would be looking at an Original Six Eastern Conference Semifinal matchup between the Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins. Instead, the underdog New York Rangers and Ottawa Senators advanced and will face off in the Stanley Cup playoffs for only the second time: The Rangers won the series 4-3 over the Senators in the first round in 2012. New York is the Sports Interaction series favourite this time as well despite not owning home-ice advantage.
New York Rangers at Ottawa Senators, Game 1
New York Rangers
In a perfect world, the Rangers would have home-ice advantage in this series because they finished with 102 regular-season points, four more than Ottawa. However, that was only good for fourth place in the crazy-tough Metropolitan Division for the Blueshirts, so they were relegated to the Eastern Conference’s top wild-card spot. The Rangers also had a plus-36 goal differential during the season to Ottawa’s -2. The Sens were the only playoff team with a negative differential.
New York took out Atlantic Division champion Montreal in six games in the first round, with three of them decided by one goal and two in overtime. The Rangers were down 2-1 in the series at one point, and the clear turning point was Game 6 in Montreal. The Habs led that game 2-1, and often that’s enough for Carey Price. But the Rangers tied it in the second period and won it 3-2 on Mika Zibanejad’s goal at 14:22 of overtime. New York closed it out at home on Saturday, 3-1, to reach the second round for the fifth time in the past six years.
Mats Zuccarello scored twice in the clincher and Henrik Lundqvist stopped 27 of 28 shots. It was the fourth time in the series that Lundqvist allowed two or fewer goals, and the Rangers won all four. King Henrik finished with a GAA of 1.70 and save percentage of .947. The Rangers were 0-for-14 on the power play through the first five games before Zuccarello’s first goal on their only chance of Game 6. He had three goals in the series. Zibanejad led the Rangers with four points (1G, 3A).
The Rangers’ lone win in three games vs. Ottawa during the regular season was 4-3 at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 27. New York visited Ottawa just once, a 3-1 loss on April 8 in a meaningless game for the Blueshirts. Defenseman Ryan McDonagh led the Rangers with three points vs. Ottawa this season (3A) despite missing a game. Chris Kreider was tops with two goals. Lundqvist played in only that April 8 game, with backup Antti Raanta in net the first two.
Coach Alain Vigneault’s team is +350 to win the East and +750 for the Cup.
Being honest, I picked Ottawa to lose in seven games to Boston but then was surprised that one of the Bruins’ best players, center David Krejci, missed the first two games with an upper-body injury as well as Game 6. That injury came out of nowhere as Krejci was scratched just before the faceoff of Game 1. He did play Games 3-5 but was hurt in the latter and then sat out Game 6, in which Ottawa knocked out Boston with a 3-2 overtime victory. Not an excuse, but it would have affected my decision.
Bruins-Senators was a great series as every game was decided by one goal with four going to overtime. How epic was it that Clarke MacArthur scored the series-clincher on a power play 6:30 into OT of Game 6? The guy spent nearly two full seasons recovering from concussion problems and wasn’t expected to play this year before returning April 4. MacArthur also had a power-play goal in the Game 2 OT win.
The NHL doesn’t award the Norris Trophy based on playoff results, but it should give another one to Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson. He’s a finalist for a third Norris Trophy and played the first round with two hairline fractures in his left heel. Only a hockey player! Karlsson suffered the injury when he blocked a shot during a game against the Flyers on March 28 and aggravated it when he played back-to-back games against the Red Wings on April 3 and 4. All Karlsson did vs. Boston was finish with six assists and plus-3 in more than 30 minutes of ice time per game. The Senators scored 11 goals when Karlsson was on the ice. Karlsson and Lundqvist were members of Team Sweden at the World Cup.
Derick Brassard led Ottawa with eight points (2G, 6A) in the Bruins series. Brassard and the Rangers’ Zibanejad were traded for each other last summer, a deal that has worked out for both teams. Bobby Ryan (4G, 3A) added seven points vs. Boston. Craig Anderson had a 1.94 GAA and .921 save percentage.
Ottawa has two injury concerns for this series as defenseman Mark Borowiecki missed the last four games vs. the Bruins with a lower-body injury and winger Tom Pyatt missed the final two with an upper-body problem. Pyatt might play Game 1 vs. New York, but Borowiecki will not.
In winning two of three regular-season meetings vs. the Rangers, Jean-Gabriel Pageau led Ottawa with five points (2G, 3A). Karlsson played in two games and had an assist. Anderson was 2-0-0 with a 0.50 GAA and .981 save percentage. Ottawa is a long shot to win the East (+450) and the Cup (+1000).
Rangers vs. Senators Predictions
When Lundqvist is on, there may not be any better netminder in the NHL. He had a down season by his standards, but Lundqvist’s .947 save percentage against Montreal was his best six-game stretch of the season. In five of his last six games against the Senators, he has allowed two goals or fewer with a 1.80 goals-against average and a .936 save percentage. New York also has won 10 of its past 15 regular-season trips to Ottawa. Rangers in six.