1) The date is set, the New York Rangers will play the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round of the 2014 NHL playoffs. The Rangers have the ‘advantage’ of home-ice against the Flyers in the series matchup. The advantage of home-ice is hard to figure, considering the Rangers have at times struggled at Madison Square Garden this season (and in season’s past). The Flyers have not won at MSG since February 20, 2011; or since they traded Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. For the sake of hilarity, let’s call it “The Curse of Richie and Cartsy”. Since the Rangers won the meeting on March 6, 2011, which was Ryan Callahan‘s four goal performance, the boys in blue are 13-4 against the Flyers while outscoring the orange and black 58-32. In the 2011-2012 season, the Rangers swept the six game regular season series.
So sure, history is on the Rangers side. But it’s just that, history. The cliche of the playoffs is true, nothing that happened prior to the series matchup really matters. The NHL playoffs are a clean slate and all prior sins or shortcomings are forgotten. So cheer up Flyers fans, there is really no reason to be afraid of MSG.
Here’s what I’m saying, though: McDonagh feels well enough to play, but there are areas in which he doesn’t seem “100 percent,” and unfortunately, we won’t know truly how well his shoulder is until he retreats to the corner in game action and takes hit after hit.
Pat, you are hereby allowed to coach a little bit. There is no way McDonagh is 100% in all facets of his game. In fact, his ability to shoot is likely to be hampered. Which is a problem for the Rangers, since McDonagh is the only defenseman the team has who is worth his weight in the offensive zone. Furthermore, the Rangers are no doubt going to be leery of the Flyers taking runs at McDonagh’s shoulder. The point of injury was unfortunately obvious to anyone with the ability to watch replay for the Rangers. You can bet your ass that Flyers head coach Craig Berube and his players have or will discuss the fact that McDonagh is recovering from an injury to a part of his body that will always be vulnerable on the ice. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Flyers set the tone early with McDonagh on the first few shifts of the game and target his shoulder. Derek Dorsett (or Dan Carcillo) will have to keep that maniac Zach Rinaldo in check.
3) So the Rangers’ best defenseman won’t be 100% for their series versus the Flyers. Which stinks for the Rangers. But fortunately, the Flyers defenseman are pretty terrible, so the Rangers still have a clear advantage on the defensive side of the puck. The Flyers defensive corps is old (Kimmo Timonen, Mark Streit, Hal Gill), slow (Nicklas Grossman, Gill), and mediocre (Andrew MacDonald, Luke Schenn). The Flyers have given up 157 goals this season during 5 on 5 play, which is the worst mark for any team that made the playoffs. The Rangers ability to create chances on the forecheck and on the rush against the Flyers is no fluke. The Rangers speed on the wings should create problems for the Flyers defensemen throughout the series. The game-within-the game will be how Vigneault matches up his fast, skill guys against the Flyers snorlax defensemen (Gill, Gorssman) with the advantage of last change.
4) Speaking of the game-within-the game, it will be interesting to see how Berube utilizes Sean Courtier at MSG and on their home ice in Philadelphia. Courtier has been heralded as “the best young two-way center” in hockey, with good reason. This matchup is where the benefit of the Martin St. Louis trade comes into play for the Rangers. Berube has to choose between matching up ‘Couts’ against the Nash line (with the newly added St. Louis) or the Zuccarello line. Unlike in playoffs years past, the Rangers have more than one line that is a true threat to score at even strength.
5) There are two ‘x factors’ in this series; the Flyers power play and St. Louis. The Flyers power play has been inconsistent of late. But if the series turns into the blood bath that we’re all anticipating it will be, there will be plenty of power play opportunities to go around. If the Flyers power play, which has proven to be deadly in the past, starts to click, the Rangers are in a world of hurt and likely won’t win the series. Staying out of the box is an obvious ‘key’ to any game, but it’s pretty clear that the special teams play will likely be the key to the series. The team which gives up more power play goals, is going to lose to the series. It is paramount that the Rangers do not lose their shit in the same manner which the Pittsburgh Penguins nearly always do against the Flyers.
The good news for the Rangers, is that they are one of the least penalized teams in the league playing against the most penalized team in the league. So they should in theory, have more opportunities to capitalize on their own power plays.
The Rangers rolled into the playoffs down the stretch without any contributions from St. Louis, who struggled mightily to acclimate himself to the team. But we’ve seen flashes in the last few games of the season of him returning to form, now that he is finally playing with players of similar caliber. If St. Louis performs to his abilities, it’s likely the Rangers win the series. If not, the Rangers still have an opportunity and the ability to beat the Flyers, the odds just aren’t nearly as good.
The rare prediction:
Rangers win in 7
The fact of the matter is, the Flyers can be a damn good hockey team when they fire on all cylinders. The Rangers are the better team in nearly every way, they should win the series. But anything can happen in the playoffs, which is the beauty of hockey.