The Runner Sports

Rangers vs Canadiens Playoff Preview

With the NHL Playoffs set to kick off this Wednesday, let’s look at the Rangers’ first-round matchup versus the Canadiens. After finishing the regular season with 102 points, the Rangers come in as the first Wild Card team. They will face the Montreal Canadiens, who won the Atlantic Division with 103 points. It will certainly be an intriguing matchup, as it is any time these two historic, original six franchises face off.

The Rangers struggled heavily against Montreal this season, losing all three games, one in a shootout. In fact, over the past three seasons, the Rangers have only won twice out of the nine regular season meetings. Their last playoff meeting was the 2014 Eastern Conference Finals which the Rangers won in six games. However, that came in part due to Chris Kreider injuring Carey Price during game one of the series, forcing backup Dustin Tokarski to take over.

Forwards:

The Rangers are one of the deeper offensive teams in hockey and play with great speed. Their top three lines are incredibly balanced and can all take over a game. They are led by Chris Kreider and J.T. Miller, who are both having career years. Regarding the fourth line, I assume Tanner Glass will be in the lineup over Pavel Buchnevich. Given the Canadiens’ hard-nosed style of play, Glass will be counted on for his checking and toughness. No, he is not great with the puck, but in an intense playoff series, it always helps to have an enforcer in the lineup. Nonetheless, Oscar Lindberg and Jesper Fast can score on that line, which is always an added bonus.

Montreal, led by captain Max Pacioretty, are not nearly as deep as the Rangers and feature a more possession based game. Their top three forwards, Pacioretty, Alex Galchenyuk, and Alexander Radulov are very talented players. Andrew Shaw is a perennial pest, who will play physical, in front of the net and can score. He brings with him plenty of playoff experience, after spending five seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks. In addition, Steve Ott can check hard and intimidate when needed.

The Rangers have a big advantage offensively. Their best chance at solving Carey Price will be to create odd man rushes using their dynamic speed.

Defense:

This matchup features two of the game’s top defensemen in Ryan McDonagh and Shea Weber. However, behind them, both teams struggle.

For the Rangers, their biggest problem as a unit has been turnovers in their own zone leading to wide open scoring chances. The Rangers have McDonagh and rookie Brady Skjei who has been fantastic all season. Behind them though, is an issue. Dan Girardi is just a shell of his old self, yet the Rangers still rely on him as if he was still a top-tier defenseman. Marc Stall has played very well at times, better than last season, but is still unreliable with the puck and has not played great the last month. The new guy, Brendan Smith, has fit in well and can do a bit of everything. The question lies in the back-end, whether Kevin Klein, who has had his worst season, or Nick Holden, who after a hot start has completely stalled, will be the odd man out of the lineup.

Montreal on paper is better defensively. Weber is still on top of his game defensively and is always an offensive threat with his booming slapshot. Andrei Markov can also contribute offensively. Trading for Jordie Benn at the deadline looked like a good way to boost the defense and penalty kill, but Benn missed some time with injuries. He expects to be in the lineup for the playoffs but his effectiveness and health is unknown.

The Canadiens are a deeper and steadier bunch than the Rangers defensively, so if healthy they will have the edge.

Goalies:

This is the marquee matchup to watch. Henrik Lundqvist vs Carey Price. One thing to take note of, Henrik Lundqvist has stumbled majorly versus the Canadiens, losing six straight, while Carey Price always elevates his game when playing the Rangers, winning has last eight starts. Price’s effectiveness slipped a little midseason but he has turned his game around and is back to being one of the best in the world.

It has been an interesting season for Lundqvist. He has struggled at points, was benched for several games, and missed time with an injury. In his five starts since returning from that injury, Lundqvist has improved each game. He has been able to carry this team deep in the playoffs before, but the defense in front of him can be an issue, often times leaves him out to dry.

Price is the better younger goalie who always plays well versus the Rangers and has a steadier defense in front of him giving him a clear advantage.

Special Teams:

The Rangers power play and penalty kill have been on and off. The power play has improved, but the penalty kill remains an issue. The Canadiens aren’t great either on the power play but Shea Weber is always a threat. However, under Claude Julien, their penalty kill has been very effective.

Prediction:

Expect a really even match. For the Rangers, playing on the road is not an issue as they are the best in the league away from home. The Rangers will need their offense to step up big time, especially Kreider and Rick Nash to get some pucks past Carey Price. If Lundqvist is on top of his game, I like the Rangers to use their speed to give Montreal problems. I like the Rangers winning a hard-fought series in seven games.

Game 1 is Wednesday in Montreal at 7 pm ET.