NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 26: Chris Kreider #20 and Anton Stralman #32 of the New York Rangers celebrate their 2 to 1 win over the Ottawa Senators in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden on April 26, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Sometimes sports can be a funny thing. A team can struggle through the first round -- similar to the way the New York Rangers needed seven games to get past the Ottawa Senators -- and then see all of their problems disappear once they get through to the next round.
Well, maybe their problems don't always disappear, but it does give the team a clean slate to work with.
That's what the Rangers have this afternoon when they host the Washington Capitals for Game 1 of the second round of the NHL Playoffs. The Rangers and Capitals are familiar foes in the postseason, but this series is a little different since the Rangers are the top seed and the Capitals are the team that needed 82 games of fight to make the playoffs.
Does that make getting four wins any easier? No. Join me after the jump for key players.
The Capitals are a team full of big names. Guys like Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green. So who did Becca from Japers Rink select as the Capitals' key player in this series? Mike Green. Here's why:
A key player for the Caps in this series is Mike Green. Since he returned from abdominal surgery back in February we've seen flashes of the old Green, and he's done a decent job of taking care of things in his own end, but he's still not producing anywhere near the offense the Caps used to depend on. The Caps will need him to step it up a bit on both counts in this series - shutting down the second- and third-line guys he's likely going to face while also chipping in offensively, particularly on the power play. Special teams can be the difference in a series - the Caps are going to want more than the two power play goals they managed against the Bruins last round, and it starts with Green.
The Rangers are very familiar with Mike Green, who's been somewhat of a Rangers killer over the past few years of his career. Just like with Ottawa (who boasted Erik Karlsson) the Rangers will not only need to keep their eyes on the Capitals better forwards but also their defenseman.
As for the Rangers? I'm going to take someone who might surprise you. Chris Kreider.
No, this has nothing to do with my rapidly blooming love affair for the Rangers' rookie, but more about what he's done and what his presence does for the Rangers' lineup.
Kreider was easily the Rangers best forward in Game 7. He was one of the Rangers best forwards in Game 6 (where he notched the game-winning goal). Back to Game 7; he played over 18 minutes, set up two different scoring chances, forced the turnover on the Marc Staal goal and used his frame and speed to create space for himself all night. It was honestly as though the Senators didn't know how to handle him when he had the puck in the offensive zone.
If he can bring that to this series, then look at what the Rangers have going for them up front: Kreider, a suddenly red-hot Derek Stepan, Carl Hagelin (who was great in both Game 6 and 7), Brad Richards (who I think had a fantastic first round), Marian Gaborik (if he comes out of his slump) and Ryan Callahan (he's been brilliant). Those would be the Rangers top-six players.
Here comes the fun part. Kreider moving into the top six pushes players like Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov and Brian Boyle down to the third line. So instead of John Tortorella forcing those three players onto the top two lines, he can slid everyone down to appropriate roles.
So now Tortorella can roll four full lines, and have two legitimate scoring lines and a third line that's solid defensively and can put the puck into the back of the net. This wasn't a luxury the Rangers had in Games 3 and 4 against the Senators, and it showed.
Now the Rangers know what they have.
Time to get things started off the right way. Thoughts guys?