I think it's funny the two teams who struggled the most out of the gate in the Metropolitan -- or at least the two teams with the highest expectations coming into the year -- ended up finishing second and third in the conference. The Penguins, obviously, locked up first early, but the Rangers and Flyers needed a big surge to get from where they were to where they are now.
The Rangers ended up locking down home ice advantage through the first round of the playoffs, which would have been a ludicrous thought to most when the season was still 10 games old. But the Rangers fought their way through their lumps this year, and have earned a huge card in their back pocket (Game 7 at home) if the series gets that far. Don't discount home ice at all. I know we joke a lot about how terrible the Rangers are at home, and how it might have been better if they were forced to play four games on the road (again, if it gets that far), but the team is far more comfortable having that home ice advantage.
I also know there's been talk about how quiet The Garden has been this year. And for most of the season I think it was. Some of that, I believe, has to do with the fact that the Rangers have been so bad at home this year. But I will say MSG got louder and louder as the year went on, and when the Rangers were playing well at home the place was rocking. I expect the playoffs to be that "747 getting ready to take off" loud we're all used to.
Moving back to the actual teams themselves, I think each team the Rangers could have potentially faced brought something different (read: a difficult aspect to overcome) to the table. The Flyers are obviously the big and mean team from down the road who are going to initiate a very tough and physical series paired with their offensive threats. The Blue Jackets would have been physical too (although not at the Flyers' level) but they bring a much steadier defensive corps and goaltender to the table. If you ask me which team I want to play against, the high-flying offense or the lock-it-down defense and goalie, I take the offense every time. A hot goaltender can drag a team kicking and screaming through the playoffs, more often than not, a high-flying offense can't do it alone.
That doesn't mean the Rangers won't have their issues with the Flyers. Ryan McDonagh -- who is hopefully fully healed from his shoulder injury -- and Dan Girardi are going to be tasked with shutting down the Claude Giroux line all series. Which means Marc Staal, John Moore, Anton Stralman and Kevin Klein are going to be responsible for everyone else. The Flyers have offensive weapons up and down their lineup, it's not a one-line show, so the Rangers' defense is going to have to be up to the task outside of McDonagh and Girardi.
And, of course, the Rangers' offense/power play is going to be a big factor as well. If guys like Rick Nash and Martin St. Louis find their game this spring, the Rangers are going to be happy camper. Both of those guys can win a game by himself, so having two on the roster is nothing but a benefit. Add in guys like Derek Stepan, Mats Zuccarello, Derick Brassard and even, yes, Benoit Pouliot, and the Rangers don't exactly have an offense to take lightly, either. Especially if they start converting with the man advantage.
The big question right now is whether or not the Rangers are going to go with Dan Carcillo or Jesper Fast while Chris Kreider is injured. It's an interesting debate, since Carcillo does add some toughness in a series that will probably warrant some, while Fast brings the speed and offense (not on Kreider's level but obviously above Carcillo's level) the team is missing with Kreider in the press box.
And, finally, the goaltenders. I take Henrik Lundqvist over any other goaltender in the NHL, period. I go to war with him every time. Sure, Tuukka Rask is pretty friggin good up in Boston, but I still take my chances with Lundqvist. And with the way the Rangers' defense has been playing of late -- even without McDonagh -- it's an added edge.
This is more of an overview of things, we're going to get more in depth as the week flies towards Thursday. So what are your thoughts on the series?