The battlefield is eerily quiet.
Strange, really, since in just a few hours the battle will start, blood will be drawn and eventually someone will die.
The Stanley Cup Playoffs life cycle is actually quite interesting: Tons of hope turns into fist-clenching emotions which turns into either jubilation or deep, spiraling depression. If you win the battle, you move on to face the next army standing between you and the Stanley Cup. Generally you don't even have time to reflect on what just happened.
For the Rangers, their first round series against the Flyers was an emotional contest. The playoffs in general are typically gut-wrenching, but when you throw a rival like the Flyers into the mix it takes things to another level. With Pittsburgh waiting in Round Two, it's only going to get more emotional. The longer you dance, the tighter your fists clench. It's just the way it is.
Reinforcements might be on the way for the Rangers, although I wouldn't count on it. We don't know when Chris Kreider will be back, but the news is generally positive. He's getting better. He's improving. However, there is no timetable. That shrouds a major part of the Rangers' plan in mystery. With Kreider in the lineup, they have an elite skater with even better speed who brings a level of offense to the team they're missing terribly. Without him, Alain Vigneault will continue to dip into the well, switching between J.T. Miller and Dan Carcillo depending on the night.
That might make things a little tricky since the Rangers will be going up against a formidable opponent. I've said this before, and I mean it: In the playoffs, every team is dangerous. It doesn't matter who they are, it doesn't matter how they got into the dance. If you're dancing, you bring something to the table that makes you dangerous. That doesn't mean they don't have flaws, every team has a flaw. It just means you can't take anyone lightly.
I was asked my thoughts on this series and who would win. I responded with the following: I truly believe the Rangers could win this in four as much as I believe they can lose this in four.
I mean that. Neither result would surprise me. The Rangers just dispatched the Flyers in a long, bloody battle and get one day of rest for their troubles. After that, they play Game 3 the day after they will play Game 2. Things don't get easier the longer you dance, we all knew that, but the schedule is a major wrench thrown into a series that didn't need any help getting tougher for New York. Sometimes that's the way it is. Live, learn and move on.
With Pittsburgh the Rangers have a tough task. The Penguins have been on the better end of every recent playoff matchup between the two teams. It's been somewhat the same song during the regular season as well. This year, the Rangers and Penguins split their season series with each team winning a game in the shootout along with winning a game via blowout. Thanks to the Martin St. Louis trade the Rangers finally have some top guns (yes, this includes Rick Nash) who can hang with the Penguins' top guns if they come to play.
Traps, however, do litter this series for the Rangers. The power play - which would have looked just as bad with me at the point - needs to get better. Much better. And while we're on the special teams topic, the discipline needs to be better, too. The Rangers penalty kill did a really good job against the Flyers, but the Penguins are far more dangerous offensively, so staying out of the box will be essential. So will capitalizing on power play chances the Penguins give the Rangers.
Basically, this will be a series of opportunities. In the playoffs there are windows of opportunities scattered throughout every game. Some help you gain momentum if you don't have it, others help you keep momentum if you do have it. Either way, the Rangers need to take advantage of them when they open. The Penguins got past a gritty Columbus Blue Jackets team, but the Blue Jackets helped exploit some of their flaws by grabbing those windows of opportunity. Maybe the Penguins will make adjustments. Maybe the Penguins can't make adjustments. Either way, you should be confident in the Rangers' ability to win this series.
Especially since the two sides haven't even played yet. That's the first stage of the Stanley Cup Playoffs life cycle.