The New York Rangers and Ottawa Senators have never before met beyond regular season play, but that will change Thursday night at Madison Square Garden when the Blueshirts host the Sens in game one of the 2012 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. A top seed versus bottom seed match-up is often one that isn’t very difficult to predict before it begins, and the Rangers are arguably the favorites to come out of this series as winners, but there’s more to New York against Ottawa than just standings. The postseason brings along with it a clean slate, so it wouldn’t be fair to base this series on what’s already occurred.
While you can argue that’s beneficial for the Senators, it is also a plus for the Rangers as well. Ottawa took three of four from New York during the regular season, and two of those three were by a three-goal margin. The Rangers unquestionably struggled with the Senators this year, but again, it’s a whole new playing field come time for the playoffs.
That said, there are three major match-ups within the overall match-up that will ultimately decide who will survive the first round and move on to the semifinals. Let’s get to it....
Henrik Lundqvist vs. Craig Anderson
In any playoff series, no matter the circumstances, you must first start with the duel that will take place between the pipes. When first looking at Henrik Lundqvist versus Craig Anderson, Lundqvist has the edge by far and away without a doubt. However, underestimating Craig Anderson would be a regretful mistake for the Rangers, because this 30-year-old from Illinois does have the ability to singlehandedly win games when he’s on.
Anderson finished the season with a .914 save percentage and 2.84 goals against average, which pales in comparison to Lundqvist’s .930 and 1.97 statistics. In three games in which he started against the Rangers this season, though, he only allowed a total of seven goals, which brings his GAA down to 2.33 against New York alone. A bulk of those goals were allowed in the first half of the season, too, before he began to heat up in net for Ottawa.
That’s all fine and dandy for Andy, but these games are expected to be tightly played with not a whole lot of goals scored, and he simply does not have the tools to compete with a playoff-possessed Lundqvist in those situations. Hank can and will be the Rangers’ best player all throughout the series, and if he receives the required amount of support from the defense in front of him, he will outduel Anderson rather easily.
Brad Richards/Marian Gaborik vs. Daniel Alfredsson/Jason Spezza
Ah, the big guns. In a closely played series, you are always going to count on your top guys to come up with that big goal late in the game or possibly even in overtime. This is where these two dynamic duos come into play when matching up the Rangers and Senators in this series.
Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik were united to begin the season, but quickly found that they were not yet a match made in Heaven. But, after a few months of watching each other on opposite shifts, head coach John Tortorella decided to throw the two together in the final quarter of the season, and just like that Richie and Gabby started to make magic together. As the team’s two top leading scorers already, their production picked up pace upon finding chemistry together, and they formed the Rangers’ most threatening line all season, along with rookie winger Carl Hagelin.
In Ottawa, Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson were no strangers to each other at the start of this year as Gaborik and Richards were. These two have been together for what seems like an eternity, so it’s no surprise to see them as the Sens’ most dangerous offensive weapons still to this day. Spezza, especially, had a tremendous year, registering 34 goals and 84 points. Alfredsson had 27 goals and 59 points.
Together they combined for 143 points on the season. As for Gabby and Richie? 142. It doesn’t get closer than that, ladies and gents.
It’s this match-up that will decide this series more than any other. All four players are elite, all four players have experience in the postseason, and all four will come up with big plays when called upon. It’s going to be fun to watch them go head-to-head, and to be completely honest, an advantage cannot be swayed either way here. It’s dead even, so it all comes down to which duo has the better best of seven series.
Michael Del Zotto/Ryan McDonagh vs. Erik Karlsson
Yup, it takes two Ranger defenseman to equal the contributions that Erik Karlsson gave the Senators from an offensive-defenseman standpoint this season. With this match-up, when looking at defense as in playing in their own zone, the Rangers have the clear-cut advantage. But as far as moving the puck out of the back end goes, there may be no better in the game right now than Karlsson in Ottawa.
The 21-year-old Swede finished second on the Senators in scoring this season with 78 points. 78 points led all blue-liners in the NHL this season, and is a downright absurd number for a defenseman. He racked up 59 assists alone over the course of the year, which outnumbers Del Zotto’s entire point total by eighteen.
If the Rangers are going to have hopes of keeping up with the Senators in this department, they will need not only Del Zotto to put up points on defense, but Ryan McDonagh as well. Karlsson was arguably the motor that made the ship run in Ottawa, as the team seemed to trend with his scoring – there’s no coincidence there. He’s developed into a near unstoppable game-changer.
The Blueshirts are going to need Del Zotto and McDonagh to combine to at least come close to equaling Karlsson’s totals in this series, otherwise the Senators will suddenly have a weapon that the Rangers have no answer for or any ability to contend with. An immense question mark lies within this match-up, but to McDonagh and Del Zotto’s credit, they’ve done pretty well for themselves as young defensemen on the offensive side of things this season. They can handle the task.
Now obviously there will be more to this series than the three match-ups discussed in this article, but this is where the heart of the Rangers vs. Senators Quarterfinal lies. I know everyone is big on predictions at this time of year.......
.....but you’ll have to come back tomorrow for that.