New York Rangers vs Pittsburgh Penguins: 1st Round Playoff Preview

Rick Nash, New York Rangers.

New York Rangers sniper Rick Nash. Image Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

The New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins will meet in the Stanley Cup playoffs for the second straight year. The Pens blew a 3-1 lead in games to lose to the Blueshirts in the 2014 second-round. Based on recent performances, Crosby and Co. would be lucky to get to a game seven with the Rangers this time around.

After enjoying a successful first half of the 2014-15 NHL season, Pittsburgh really stumbled down the stretch. It took a desperate, final day of the season, 2-1 win over the last place Buffalo Sabres for the Penguins to clinch the second wild card spot in the East. No team in the Stanley Cup playoffs had less points this season than Pittsburgh.

The Rangers, however, have never been better. They won the Presidents’ Trophy for the first time since 1993-94, which happens to be the last time they won the Stanley Cup. That’s certainly a good omen, if nothing else.

Another good omen for the Rangers is that they allowed the third last amount of goals against in the entire NHL season. And defence wins championships is more than a silly cliche. Every Cup champion team dating back to 2010 have finished the regular season of their Cup winning year as one of the five best goals against teams in the NHL. That’s good company.

It feels like this is New York’s time. They made the semi-finals in 2012, reshuffled the roster a bit and made the Cup final in 2014. Their forward group is a versatile blend of young foot soldiers, sizeable grinders, and a couple small but shifty skill guys.

But the Rangers real asset is their defence corps. Ryan McDonagh is one of the very best blue liners in the NHL. He’s fresh off an incredible playoff performance one year ago. The addition of offensive specialist Keith Yandle ensures that the Rangers back end is not only impressively hard nosed and blue collar as it has become known for in recent years, but also now capable of contributing offensively on a consistent basis.

A person of logic would have to assume that the Rangers got this one.

The Penguins recent playoff struggles are no secret. Since winning the Cup in 2009 they have been favourites to make the finals every year, but never delivered. With Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin come high expectations. Yet, it has been repeatedly proven in recent postseasons that it takes more than two superstars to win the Stanley Cup. It truly requires the efforts of a deep team, and a little luck of course. The Penguins’ depth is depleted. They’ll need a lot of luck to overcome that.

Sal’s Prediction: New York Rangers in 6. 

I’ve watched the Rangers quite a bit this season — admittedly, more than I’ve watched the Penguins — and I’ve liked what I’ve seen. They roll four lines, their defence is stacked and they’re so good defensively that it doesn’t even seem to matter which goalie suits up. That’s the sign of a great team that doesn’t give up many quality scoring chances. If the defensive acumen the Rangers have displayed all season holds up in the first-round, I can’t imagine them losing to a squad they outdid all year, and eliminated from last year’s playoffs.