The New York Rangers will take on the Montreal Canadiens in the opening round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The series will begin Wednesday night.
If the Rangers are going to win, they are going to need to do the following in order to advance:
1) Creating traffic in front of Carey Price
The Montreal goaltender is a world-class player and is one of the top net minder’s in the entire NHL, if not the best. In 2014, Chris Kreider was tripped, then crashed into Price, sidelining the goaltender for the remainder of the series. Dustin Tokarski filled in admirably, but the difference between Price and anyone else is significant.
Price is one of the few players in the sport that can affect the oppositions mentality before the series starts. It will be imperative for the Rangers to score a few goals, preferably in the beginning of Game 1, and prove to themselves that they can beat Price on a routine basis.
It is essential that the Rangers prevent Price from tracking the puck and create traffic in front of the net. Kreider and Rick Nash have the size and the ability to cause chaos in front of the crease However, both players have struggled with consistency and will be relied upon to fill a crucial role.
2) Depth has to contribute
Few would argue that the Rangers are not he more talented team heading into the series opener. They have three second lines and can attack in waves offensively. Shea Weber and Andrei Markov have been one of the best defensive pairs this season, but which line do they match up against?
Most likely, they will play vs. the Kreider-Derek Stepan-Mats Zuccarello line. That should open up opportunities for Mika Zibanejad, Rick Nash, Jimmy Vesey, Michael Grabner, Kevin Hayes and J.T. Miller.
That’s not to say the Rangers top line will be shut down by Weber and Markov, but the others should have positive matchups. Grabner has been in a recent slump but a few early goals could boost his confidence.
Hayes and Miller have had improved seasons but will be expected to contribute once the playoffs begin.
Overall, the Rangers have their biggest advantage with their amount of scoring forwards vs. the Montreal defense. But the key question is, will they be able to exploit it?
3) Lundqvist has to be good
In 2014, Henrik Lundqvist and Price were viewed as equals. But times have changed and Price is the overwhelming pick as the better goaltender.
Lundqvist has showed moments of brilliance throughout the 2016-17 season but has significantly struggled after long stretches of time off. Fortunately for New York, Lundqvist was able to play several games after missing eight contests with a hip strain. He looked better and better each start, culminating with a terrific performance against Ottawa on Saturday afternoon despite the skaters in front of him barely playing.
The Rangers do not necessarily need Lundqvist to steal a series, like they have in years past, but he could not have an off game. If he has a stinker and the Rangers get blown out, it changes the outcome of the series dramatically.