NHL Playoffs 2014: Western Conference Final Preview – Montreal Canadiens vs New York Rangers

Image courtesy of Zimbio.com.

SERIES BEGINS: 19th May

PUCK DROP: 20:00 ET (01:00 GMT)

EDITOR’S NOTE: Apologies for the belated preview – not enough hours in the day – but even in light of the Ranger’s 7-2 drubbing of the Habs in Game 1, I stand by my prediction below.  And I’ll probably look like an idiot for it. And OF COURSE Carey Price is injured for the duration of the series, that’s REALLY helping my prediction. Sorry, Habs fans…

BY THE NUMBERS

MONTREAL NY RANGERS
WON LAST ROUND IN… 7 games 7 games
GOALS FOR/AGAINST (DIFFERENTIAL) 36 / 26(+10) 34 / 30(+4)
TOP POINT SCORER 12 P(P.K. SUBBAN) 9 P(B. RICHARDS)
TOP GOAL SCORER 5 G(T. VANEK) 4 G(B. RICHARDS, D. BRASSARD

& C. HAGELIN)

MOST TOI/G 26:45(P.K. SUBBAN) 24:56(R. McDONAGH)
TOTAL 5v5 SV% 93.6%(4th in NHL) 94.4%(3rd in NHL)

Note: The above statistics are for both teams heading into the series, so do not include those from the 7-2 pounding the Rangers handed out the other night.

MONTREAL CANADIENS ROUND 2 LOWDOWN

The Montreal Canadiens were never, ever going to be the favourites versus a modern-day powerhouse like Boston, but sometimes the supposed “safe bet” just doesn’t work out.  I’m talking from experience there, in case you couldn’t tell.  Only once in the entire second round series versus the Bruins did the Canadiens break even in shot attempt differential (FF%), but thanks to a combination of insane shooting percentages and outstanding goaltending, not to mention PK Subban coming alive, the Habs kept the dream of the Cup returning to Canada alive for at least another four games.

The series was back-and-forth, with Montreal twice taking a series lead, and twice surrendering it before seeing Boston hold the advantage, but two outstanding final games by Montreal secured their first Conference Final appearance since Subban’s rookie showing in 2010.

Montreal were perhaps lucky to prevail against a superior team whose scoring touch and usually outstanding goaltending failed them at precisely the wrong time, but make no mistake this is a Canadiens squad with some serious talent in key positions.  Not a team to take lightly.

MONTREAL CANADIENS PLAYER TO WATCH

Max Pacioretty took an age to get going in this year’s playoffs, putting just one puck into the net in his first 9 games.  However, he has 2 goals and 4 points in his last 3 games and appears to be coming around.  The team’s most lethal sniper is key to the team getting through the likes of Ryan McDonagh and Henrik Lundqvist, and if he can continue filling the net then that’s obviously only a good thing for Montreal.

NEW YORK RANGERS ROUND 1 LOWDOWN

Like Montreal, the Rangers probably weren’t considered the favourites against the Penguins in spite of the latter team’s questionable defending, goaltending (though MA Fleury did perform well in Round 1) and depth.  The thing with the Rangers, is you never know quite what you’re going to get.  The team isn’t as strong defensively this season as it has been in past seasons, Lundqvist has had his ups-and-downs, and Rick Nash and Brad Richards can both electrify and disappoint from one shift to the next.

Martin St Louis and the unfortunate passing of his mother was the narrative that people will remember from this series, a tragic personal loss for a key player with the team rallying around each other to claw back from a 3-1 series deficit.  Perhaps it did have an emotional effect on the team, but from a purely hockey point of view the team relied on some (at times) outstanding goaltending and high-percentage shooting.  Possession-wise they were very up and down, but took advantage of another Fleury-meltdown and a struggling Sidney Crosby to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

NEW YORK RANGERS PLAYER TO WATCH

Benoit Pouliot might not be the “sexy pick”, but he’s been excellent so far in the playoffs.  His offensive production has been solid – 3 goals and 8 points through the first two rounds – and his possession numbers are outstanding, with a 56.5% Fenwick For.  He has been the beneficiary of both insane on-ice goaltending (93.2%) and shooting success (14.8%), while starting 60% of the time in the offensive zone, so let’s not pretend Pouliot is finally coming into form as his former status as a high draft pick would imply, but ultimately he is getting the job done at an important time of the year, and IS driving play in the right direction.  It is players lower down the depth chart playing above their established level that can help win championships.

PREDICTION

This is a series that is incredibly tough to call, as neither team is what you would consider a powerhouse, but both have some outstanding talent in all positions.  One particular battle to look out for – and not the obvious one in net – is who triumphs between Ryan McDonagh’s exceptional two-way play or PK Subban’s electrifying offensive talent?  Subban is on fire at the moment, and is underrated at the defensive side of things, so I’m going to favour him, but McDonagh – a former Canadien’s draft selection – is brilliant in his own right and could just as easily dominate, albeit in a more understated style.

As I stated above, the impression I get of the Rangers is that they’re unpredictable.  For this reason, I’m going to go with Montreal triumphing in 6 games.

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