Written by: Nick Wageman (Team 22)
The regular season has finally ended. For sixteen teams in the NHL, their blood, sweat, and tears have manifested themselves in a Stanley Cup playoff berth. While the regular season is important in securing a playoff berth, the urgency and intensity of the playoffs is unlike anything else in sports. Players in the NHL dream about hoisting the Stanley Cup since they were able to don a pair of skates, and are willing to sacrifice their bodies to do so.
In my opinion, the most intriguing first round matchup in the playoffs is between the New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins. This is the third year in a row in which these two teams have met in the playoffs. Last year, the Penguins lost in 5 games to the Rangers in the first round. The year before that, the Penguins lost to the Rangers in the second round of the playoffs in seven games. Despite the Penguins’ recent struggles against the Rangers in the playoffs, the circumstances surrounding each team this year suggest that the result may be different this time.
The Pittsburgh Penguins, lead by the once in a generation talent Sidney Crosby, look to continue their red-hot finish to the regular season. Despite the team’s recent success the absence of their second best player, Evgeni Malkin, may limit their ability to defeat the New York Rangers. It has been reported that Malkin may be back in the lineup as early as game 6 of this series, but the team needs to prepare for this series as if they won’t have Malkin. It will take a lot of effort and strategy for the Penguins to overcome an experienced team with a star goalie like the Rangers’ Hendrik Lundqvist.
The New York Rangers have been Stanley Cup contenders for the past few years, largely due to the play of the aforementioned Lundqvist. The team took a step back from its dominance in the Eastern conference standings that it has exhibited the last few years, but this team’s playoff experience will surely compensate for the team’s shortcomings this season. While Lundqvist has been a guaranteed star for the Rangers in recent years, his age started to show this season: he had his worst Goals Against Average since the 2008-2009 season. Rick Nash, typically one of the leading goal scorers for the Rangers, has struggled this year as well. Despite the team’s recent play, their playoff experience and depth of veteran leadership gives them as good a shot as any other team to advance deep into the playoffs.
I expect this series to be intense and competitive, especially because of the team’s playoff bouts the last two years. That being said, it’s hard to eliminate the Penguins this early in the playoffs because of the way the team has been playing. Having the most talented player in hockey on your team certainly helps as well. Crosby will have a significant impact on this series and I believe that he will have the most points (goals + assists) of any player in the series. It would be disrespectful for me to dismiss the Rangers and Lundqvist so easily. The Rangers will win games in this series, using the playoff experience of their veteran core and the skills of Lundqvist to contend with the Penguins.
All things considered, I expect Sidney Crosby to carry the Penguins to the next round of the playoffs. I think this series will to go seven games, culminating in a thrilling Penguins victory in front of their home crowd in Pittsburgh. This series will be competitive and has all the qualities necessary for a classic Stanley Cup Playoff series.