Three Reasons To Be Optimistic Heading Into The Second Round
On the podcast Tuesday night we discussed a full Second Round preview. It was as positive as we’ve been all year, and the confidence is somewhat scary at this stage of the season. But there’s more than a few reasons to be very optimistic about where the Rangers stand right now, so let’s talk about them.
They’ve gotten this far without much offensive firepower.
The Rangers’ red-hot start to the year has been talked about much less since they cooled off and crashed down to earth, but the simple truth is that team is still in there. Somewhere.
I mentioned on the podcast that if you told me before the series started that it would end in six games and Chris Kreider, Kevin Hayes and J.T. Miller would combine for zero goals and just three points. That’s the team’s 2nd, 4th and 5th highest point scorers on the regular season. For them to be in the second round without so much of a whimper out of those three speaks volumes to both how well Henrik Lundqvist did and how much the depth made the most of their chances (Jesper Fast had two goals, Michael Grabner had one goal against a goalie, Jimmy Vesey had a great series and even Tanner Glass scored a goal).
Pavel Buchnevich’s insertion into the lineup did make the Kreider - Zibanejad portion of his line far more dangerous, and it’s no coincidence those two saw their best and most impactful moments with him on the ice.
With Rick Nash firing on all cylinders and Mats Zuccarello being active enough, the Rangers managed their way out of Montreal without all that much top-heavy offense. Oh, Brady Skjei’s two goals helped, too.
If the Kreider, Hayes, and Miller group can get hot (and if Derek Stepan’s empty netter gets him going) the Rangers will return to that very formidable group that blew other teams out of the water in October and November. Speaking of ...
When Alain Vigneault runs all skill, the Rangers might be the deepest team in the playoffs (at forward).
I’ve said this before and I will say it again: Is it any coincidence that once Vigneault went to his all skill lineup the Rangers reeled off three wins, won the series and looked as good as they have in the playoffs? I say nay.
The hope is the adjustments Vigneault made stick with him through this series. It was very good work by him to recognize the need to get more firepower into the offense and removing Glass. I’d rather not think about what would have happened had the Rangers lost Game 5’s overtime, but the good news is we don’t have to. This lineup needs to be the lineup for the remainder of the playoffs.
These four lines pose an enormous threat to anyone in the NHL. When Fast - Oscar Lindberg - Grabner is your fourth line you know you have a deep group. That fourth line can provide offense (the trio combined for six points), and they were very solid in terms of keeping the puck away from their own end.
Relentlessness is a very good quality in the playoffs, and the Rangers have that with their all skill group. There’s two forms of how to describe “grind” to me. One is the toughness and hitting guys along the boards grinding. That’s the one most people assume players like Dwight King, Steve Ott and Glass bring to the table. Draw your own conclusions from what you saw in the First Round.
The second type of grind is how I associate it with the word. A relentless attack of the opposition, cycling the puck and forcing the other team to chase you around the ice all night. That, as much as anything, tires out the opposition and frustrates them. It draws penalties. It encourages mistakes and creates opportunities and chaos.
Think about the overtime against Montreal. Think about the final 40 minutes of Game 6. Those are the things the skill type of grind can do for you. In both those examples every time Montreal touched the puck it felt like they were simply trying to catch their breath, they’d dump it in, and then before they knew it the Rangers were on them again. That’s what they have to do against Ottawa.
Henrik Lundqvist is Henrik Lundqvist
As if you had to be worried.
We tried to tell you. We really did. You didn’t listen. And now you are a fool.
OK, most of you probably listened because you read Blueshirt Banter which means you’re smart. You probably also listen to the podcast and donate to the Patreon. That’s because you’re super smart!
Regardless, Henrik Lundqvist was Henrik Lundqvist in the first round. There are no adjectives to describe him better than that. Spectacular? Nay, Henrik Lundqvist. Brilliant. Sure, but still, Henrik Lundqvist. Superb? Jaw-dropping? Exceptional? Remarkable? Transcendent? Yes, but also, Henrik Lundqvist.
The King dropped the mic in that series, plain and simple. He posted a 1.70 GAA and a 94.7 SV%. But to only look at the stats don’t do his performance justice. It’s the left-pad save with less than a minute to go in Game 6 to seal the series. Him grabbing Shea Weber’s howitzer a period earlier. The cool, calm, and collected Henrik Lundqvist who was making big save after big save as if the bigger the moment the more elaborate he needed to perform. If calling it luck helps you sleep at night, Montreal, by all means do you. You can think about what to do to help you go to sleep; I don’t have that luxury — my team has a game to play tomorrow.
The Rangers will need to lean on Lundqvist through the playoffs. They’re built that way. The defense (well, 4/6ths of it) did well against Montreal, but I fear the speed and skill of Ottawa will give the top pair a little more than it can handle. When that happen, Lundqvist will need to clean up the mess. We’re used to this. They’re used to this. Maybe most importantly (if not sadly) he’s used to this.
Ottawa boasts a great goaltender of their own. They have firepower. Their power play is deadly. It will not be easy. Sometimes Lundqvist needs to be the great equalizer.