Series Storylines: Penguins vs. Rangers
Penguins vs. Flyers Round One Schedule:
Wednesday, April 11 - Philadelphia at PITTSBURGH - 7:30 p.m. - ROOT SPORTS
Friday, April 13 - Philadelphia at PITTSBURGH - 7:30 p.m. - ROOT SPORTS
Sunday, April 15 - Pittsburgh at Philadelphia - 3:00 p.m. - NBC
Wednesday, April 18 - Pittsburgh at Philadelphia - 7:30 p.m. - ROOT SPORTS
*Friday, April 20 - Philadelphia at PITTSBURGH - 7:30 p.m. - ROOT SPORTS
*Sunday, April 22 - Pittsburgh at Philadelphia - TBD - TBD
*Tuesday, April 24 - Tampa Bay at PITTSBURGH - TBD - TBD
#2 Pittsburgh Penguins
|VS|| #5 New York Rangers
The Penguins will play the New York Rangers in the second round of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs. This is the fifth postseason meeting between the teams, with Pittsburgh winning the first four series – including a 4-1 victory in the 2008 Eastern Conference Semifinals. Entering this round, the Penguins have gone 16-4 in 20 playoff games against the Rangers. Here are the main storylines to follow as the series progresses…
FLEURY VS. LUNDQVIST
PLAYER TO WATCH
Blue Jackets goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky may have won the Vezina Trophy last season, but the young Russian is still not even close to the pedigree of Rangers netminder Henrik Lundqvist – meaning the Penguins will have an even tougher test in Round 2.
Lundqvist is an elite veteran goaltender, one of the league’s best, who has been a finalist for the Vezina Trophy four times in his illustrious career – including last year with Bobrovsky – and won it in 2012. He’s played in big games, having backstopped his native Sweden to a gold medal in the 2006 Winter Olympics and a silver medal in 2014. He’s a rock back there for the Rangers and gives them confidence with the way he plays and the belief they can win any game with him back there.
However, Lundqvist has struggled against the Penguins in recent years. They’ve seemed to have his number, with different guys stepping up to score big goals against them during their matchups. And despite his stellar reputation, Lundqvist has yet to win the Stanley Cup (or even reach a Final) while his counterpart at the other end of the ice did back in 2009.
It’s been rocky for Marc-Andre Fleury in the postseason since then, but that looks like it’s starting to change as he was rock solid for his team in the first round against Columbus – getting his first series win since beating Ottawa in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals four years ago. While Fleury surely had goals allowed against the Blue Jackets he wishes he could take back, overall, he was excellent for the Penguins in the series. He was steady and confident, giving his team a chance to win every game and keeping the Penguins in all of them with his play.
Over the past five years, Fleury and Lundqvist are the top-two winningest regular-season netminders in the NHL. Fleury ranks first on the list with 177 wins in 296 games for a .665 winning percentage while Lundqvist places second with 167 victories in 309 games for a .590 winning percentage. But as Fleury can attest perhaps better than everyone, you’re judged on how you perform in the playoffs – and the Penguins will need him to outplay Lundqvist if they want to move on.
The Rangers play a structured, shutdown style in their own end. Lundqvist was barely challenged by the Flyers until Game 6 of their first-round series, as his defensemen did a tremendous job of shunting their forwards to the outside and keeping shots to a minimum.
What gave the Penguins success in the first round against Columbus was their mentality of throwing as many shots as possible at Sergei Bobrovsky and willingness to crash the dirty areas and wreak havoc in and around the blue paint, trying to create rebounds and second-chance opportunities. That will be key to continue against the Lundqvist and the Rangers.
New York is led by its top pairing of Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi. In just his fourth NHL season, McDonagh has developed into the Rangers’ most important defenseman as the 24-year-old Minnesota native (and first-time U.S. Olympian this February) literally does it all. The big, physical and mobile blueliner logs large minutes in all situations, including the power play and penalty kill. But McDonagh’s most important role is that of shutdown defenseman, and he and Girardi are outstanding in that regard. They will most certainly see the lion’s share of minutes against Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
Meanwhile, the Penguins may be without one of their top shutdown defensemen. Brooks Orpik missed Games 5 and 6 with an undisclosed injury, and while the Pens were able to win both games, it hurts to be without a player of his caliber. Orpik is the leader of Pittsburgh’s back end and was one of their steadiest, most consistent and all-around best defenders with partner Paul Martin until he went down. Robert Bortuzzo did an admirable job of slotting in, and he and the rest of the six-man unit will have to continue to get the job done against a deep Rangers team without Orpik if he can’t go.
Overall, both the Penguins and the Rangers play a similar structure in that they want to play defense with offense. That means puck possession in the offensive zone and cycling for extended shifts. That’s a big part of both teams’ success, as is the forwards getting back when play does go the other way and doing their part in the defensive zone to make sure the puck gets cleared. Whichever team can execute better may end up being the victor.
This series will feature the past three NHL scoring champions – Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Martin St. Louis. Those three players have combined to win six of the last 10 Art Ross Trophies dating back to St. Louis’ first crown back in 2004, with each owning two scoring crowns apiece.
During that span, the only other players to win are Vancouver’s Henrik and Daniel Sedin, Washington’s Alex Ovechkin and San Jose’s Joe Thornton. This season, Crosby won his second scoring title with 104 points; Malkin placed 15th with 72 points despite playing just 60 games; and St. Louis ranked 19th (tied) with 69 points.
St. Louis, acquired from Tampa Bay in exchange for captain Ryan Callahan at the trade deadline, had just one goal and eight points in 19 regular-season games. However, the veteran forward kicked it into gear in the first round of the playoffs and has become everything the Rangers hoped he would be when they got him. St. Louis is playing on the first line with Rick Nash and Derek Stepan, is on the first power-play unit and producing accordingly with six points (2G-4A) in seven games. However, Nash is not. The seven-time 30-plus goal scorer was held scoreless in the series and overall, has just one goal in 19 total playoff games as a Ranger.
But the positive of that situation is that the Rangers haven’t needed Nash to score. Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault likes to roll all four of his lines, and it’s working as it seems like a different player steps up every game for them. Fourth-line center Dominic Moore is one, as is third-line center Brad Richards – who was in danger of being bought out last summer but is now their leader both on and off the ice. All of those guys scored game-winners in New York’s first three wins, with Benoit Pouliot getting it in Game 7.
Agitating forward Daniel Carcillo, scratched for two of the games, chipped in a pair of huge goals in Games 5 and 7. And we haven’t even mentioned Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello, who were big against the Penguins in the regular season. New York’s ability to get contributions from their entire forward group and the Rangers’ overall team speed – namely Swedish flash Carl Hagelin – will be a challenge for the Penguins defensemen.
However, the Penguins have been getting secondary scoring as well. Before Evgeni Malkin broke through with his hat trick in Game 6, he and Crosby had been goalless. They’d been winning games on the strength of secondary scoring from guys like Brandon Sutter, Jussi Jokinen and their defensemen. Pittsburgh’s blue line chipped in 21 points through six games, the highest total of any back end in the first round.
Pittsburgh’s special teams play was its biggest strength during the regular season. It was perhaps its biggest weakness during the first round of the postseason, and that must improve moving forward.
The Penguins had a decent success rate on the power play against Columbus, converting six of 29 chances (20.7 percent). But that number doesn’t tell the whole story. Not only did the power play fail to come through with big goals at key moments as the series progressed after a strong start in Game 1, but they allowed three shorthanded goals against. Like the Blue Jackets, the Rangers have a lot of speed in their lineup and they also block a lot of shots. Those are things the Penguins will have to be mindful of in terms of limiting odd-man breaks.
But while they need to be responsible, the Penguins still have to play with confidence. Pittsburgh finished the regular season with the NHL’s No. 1 power play. They can put such a talented five-man unit on the ice and give a team so many dangerous looks, and they need their top-end guys to capitalize. Which they did against the Rangers during the regular season, as Pittsburgh went 5-for-14 in their four meetings for a 35.7 percent-success rate.
Pittsburgh’s penalty kill needs work, too. They allowed seven goals against on 27 chances for an abysmal 74.1-percent success rate. However, this may be the perfect opportunity for them to get back on track as the Rangers were anemic on the power play during the first round against Philadelphia. They converted just three of 16 chances for a 10.3-percent success rate.
Forward Brad Richards is seeing nearly six minutes a game on the man-advantage, as the excellent playmaker quarterbacks the top unit. He’s got sniper Rick Nash and last year’s scoring champion Marty St. Louis to make plays to, along with creative young center Derek Stepan and defenseman Ryan McDonagh. But it was their second unit that seemed to have more success against the Penguins in the regular season, with Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello playing a big part in that.
Seeing the most significant action of his brief NHL career in 2013-14, Mats Zuccarello provided the New York Rangers with a breakout performance – nearly doubling his career totals entering this season by establishing personal bests in games played (77), goals (19), assists (40) and points (59). Only Martin St. Louis finished with more points among Rangers players.
Zuccarello recorded at least one point in all four regular-season matchups between these teams, totaling two goals, four assists and six points. He has nine points (2G-7A) in 10 career regular-season meetings with the Penguins. Zuccarello isn’t the biggest guy at 5-foot-7, 179 pounds, but is a creative, offensively skilled player with plenty of speed.
Notes from the Penguins' communications department were used in this feature.