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Stanley Cup Playoffs Preview: Rangers vs Penguins

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The New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins will meet Tuesday at 7:00 PM for game one of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. This will be the fifth meeting between these division rivals in each team’s history and the Penguins have the edge four series to two. The two Rangers wins came in the 2010s when Henrik Lundqvist was able to steal the 2014 eastern conference finals in seven games and the year after the Rangers beat the Pens again on their way to the conference finals.

However, this year it may be harder for Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan’s team to win based on great goaltending. Reportedly, starting goaltender, Tristan Jarry and winger, Jason Zucker are both going to “miss at least the next couple of games” and are listed as day-to-day. It’s a major blow to Coach Sullivan’s team that they will face a Rangers goaltender in Igor Shesterkin who led the league in save percentage and goals-against-average without their top goalie. Instead, Casey DeSmith will stand between the pipes for the Penguins in game one.

Martin St. Louis‘s grandmother, the Rangers were down three games to one and climbed back to win the series with a dramatic 2-1 win in game seven at the Penguins’ home arena. The next year, these two met again and this time it was the Rangers who had the upper hand and cruised to the original six franchise’s second series win over Pittsburgh. However, Crosby and the Pens got revenge for that two years later in 2016’s first round, and an aging Rangers team was facing a strong Penguins team. Behind six points from Captain Canada, the Pens breezed by Henrik Lundqvist’s Rangers in five games in 2016. Then the Pens won the Stanley Cup two straight years. That is the last time these bitter rivals met up in the spring and now they will renew their rivalry.

Igor vs. Tristan, Goalie Matchup

This year the Blueshirts have had the fifth highest-rated power play in the league. They have gotten there because of the talent they have on that first unit; Artemi Panarin, Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad and Adam Fox. The man called ‘Foxy’ and Panarin are great at finding passing and shooting lanes while Kreids and Zib finish the opportunities they are given. Kreider led the NHL in power-play goals (26) ahead of great scorers in Leon Draisaitl and Auston Matthews. Kreider is the kind of power forward who creates headaches for defences in front of their net and that is what Gallant needs the 230-pound wing to do to young goaltender Tristan Jarry.

Here, the New York team has the edge. Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin was named the team’s Most Valuable Player by the team after their last game of the season. He led the NHL in save percentage and goals-against average (2.07). Meanwhile, the Pens starter, Tristan Jarry finished sixth with a 2.42 GAA during the regular season. However, the Penguins hit a snag down the stretch as they lost five straight games before winning their final game against the New York Islanders 6-3 and Jarry stopped 36 shots. Their losing streak included two losses to the Rangers and the final meeting between these two Metropolitan rivals ended in a 3-0 shutout win over the Pens on Apr.7.

Perhaps, the gap between Jarry and the front-runner to win the Vezina trophy this season, Igor is not as big as one might imagine. The pens main man posted 34 wins this season and four shutouts, while Shesterkin had 36 and six shutouts, which is not much different at all. The difference is ‘Shesty’ has gotten all the credit for his performance during the regular season while Jarry is not, but time will tell who emerges the victor. EDGE- Rangers.

I know they have great players. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang are a different animal. But if you’re going to worry about that then we’re not going to play our game. I’ve got trust in my four lines. If our fourth line gets scored against, so be it. I know the matchups we want and they won’t work all the time. I want them to worry about our lines.

Rangers head coach, Gerard Gallant previews the Penguins series

Let us begin with the Rangers blueline which has improved in leaps and bounds from last year’s team. The one constant has been alternate captain Jacob Trouba, who leads the blueline with his physicality. Along with 22-year-old defenseman K’Andre Miller (+23), Trouba has been a plus 25 which is 21st among NHL defensemen. This is no surprise since Trouba-Miller has been the first defensive pairing on a good team but are Pittsburgh’s d-men that far behind?

New Jersey Devils Prospect; Kitchener Rangers v Oshawa Generals
OSHAWA, ON – NOVEMBER 10: Michael Vukojevic #51 of the Kitchener Rangers protects the puck from Kyle Maclean #15 of the Oshawa Generals during an OHL game at the Tribute Communities Centre on November 10, 2019, in Oshawa, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Chris Tanouye/Getty Images)

No, because the Penguins’ first D-pairing includes Kris Letang who is hot on Trouba’s tail with a plus 20. But Letang’s 58 assists rank fifth in the league right behind the Rangers’ Adam Fox (63). The Rangers also have the benefit of going into this first-round series with a size advantage on the blueline. Rookie Braden Schneider (6’2, 210 lbs.) hits like a seasoned vet while Patrik Nemeth and Miller are 6’6 and 6’5 respectively. To combat this, Pittsburgh will rely primarily on Brian Dumoulin because at 6’4″ and 207 pounds is by far the Pens’ largest defenseman. However, former Ranger Brian Boyle (6’6, 245) will be used as a screen in front of Shesty often throughout this series presumably.

The most dangerous part of the Rangers’ defence is offensive defenseman, Adam Fox. Many times, this season, the New Yorker has made spin-moves reminiscent of former Rangers hall-of-fame defenseman, Brian Leetch. Foxy has made penalty killers look foolish as he dangles around them and makes the pass that leads to a ‘power-play goal!’ as Rangers p-b-p announcer Sam Rosen says.

This series will come down to special teams and the Rangers come into it with the fourth-best power-play unit in the NHL. However, Pittsburgh may be able to counteract that because their penalty-killing unit was the third-best (84.4%) during the regular season. The Penguins defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets 5-3 in their last game of the regular season. The Penguins dominated the first half of the game and jumped out to a 5-1 lead but when scouting an opponent one must find weaknesses. The weakness I found was when Pitt’s first PK unit was on the ice. The Blue Jackets made a pass from one side of the ice to a player positioned at the back door who had too much time to shoot and scored. On this pass, big forward Brian Boyle was out of position and left the back door wide open and this kind of mistake is something New York should be able to take advantage of.

Overall, the Penguins’ defence has a strong first pairing in Dumoulin and Letang, who have seven years plus of NHL experience and have won two Stanley Cups. However, the Rangers have four defensemen who start regularly that weigh 210 pounds or more which includes Nemeth who is 228 pounds and Trouba, Miller and Schneider. This helps the Rangers defensemen protect the net front and deliver punishing hits. Overall, the Rangers defence has allowed the second-fewest goals in the NHL this season and the Pens the fifth-least so it’s close but in terms of who is built for a physical playoff series, the Rangers have the edge.

Pittsburgh’s #3 PK vs. Rangers #5 PP

This was a huge surprise to me that the Penguins had one of the very best penalty-killing units in the league this unit. I guess it should not since they have some great defensive forwards like former Ranger Brian Boyle, who proved this for the 2012 and 2014 playoff runs with New York. Anyways back to the Ranger power play, they were one of the best teams this season on the man advantage but how did they do against Pittsburgh? Well, not great, in fact in four games against Pittsburgh this year, the Rangers scored one power-play goal. Furthermore, three Rangers (Kreider, Panarin and Fox) have a power-play point this season off of the Pens’ penalty kill.

In the Pens’ last game of the regular season, Brian Boyle played on the top PK unit alongside Bryan Rust, and he made a coverage mistake. He drifted too high leaving the Blue Jackets forward he was supposed to cover open in front of the net, who then had time to settle the puck and score a wrist shot.

When the Rangers and Pens met in their second-to-last game on Mar. 29, they traded power-play goals in the third period. Fox took a wrist shot that missed the net and went off of the boards. The puck came out to Kreider in front who quickly and skillfully scored over the goalie, Tristan Jarry and if the Rangers are to find a way to beat the Pens PK, they will have to be a little more creative than just tipping in point-shots.

At the end of the day, the continuation of the Rangers-Penguins rivalry will be great for the fans of these two long-standing rivals. It will be a battle of wills between a two-time Cup-winning head coach and an experienced one who has been to the Stanley Cup Finals before. A battle between two of the best players in the game, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and the Rangers stars led by Panarin, Zibanejad and Kreider. It all begins tomorrow at 7:00 PM and even if one is not a fan of Pittsburgh or the Rangers, seeing Crosby take a crack at Igor Shesterkin will be primetime television.

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