Preview: The Eastern Conference champion Rangers breathe a sigh of relief, as instead of facing the red-hot Capitals in the first round, they take on the Ottawa Senators, who quite frankly are lucky to be there. However, the Senators are a feisty team with young superstars and veteran leadership, and could upset the 1 seed.
Rangers: Henrik Lundqvist – The past couple seasons, the Rangers have barely squeaked into the playoffs, mostly based off the play of their all-star goalie. This year, nobody else deserves more credit for the Rangers having the best record in the East. Coming into the
season, everyone knew he was a top goaltender, but he’s really solidified himself as the best pure goalie in the entire league. It’s going to be hard to get pucks by this guy.
Senators: Erik Karlsson – I wanted to put this under “most wonderful surprise” because it qualifies for both, but Karlsson absolutely deserves team MVP. Defensemen, as you can probably figure out from the position name, are primarily served to defend goals. Which is why 78 points for a defensemen is… it’s insane. Absolutely insane. Those are Ray Bourque numbers. At 21 years old, he might be the best defenseman in hockey. This guy’s gonna be around for two decades.
Most Wonderful Surprise:
Rangers: Ryan McDonagh – So the Rangers standard operation in the offseason is to sign all the big unrestricted free agents. Summer of ’07, they sign Scott Gomez to a 7-year, $51 million contract. He’s terrible. They trade him to the Canadians for a bunch of players, including McDonagh. Scott Gomez, still on the Canadians, spent an entire year (getting paid $7 million I should add) without scoring a single goal. McDonagh, making a measily $1.3 million, emerged as one of the most steady and consistent Ranger defensemen. That Gomez trade might emerge as one of the worst of the past couple years, second only to the Kessel-to-Toronto trade.
Senators: Kyle Turris – Speaking of lopsided trades, a lot of Senators fans were sick when the team traded prized defensive prospect David Rundblad to the Phoenix Coyotes for struggling young forward Kyle Turris. Turris had contract disputes with the Coyotes, and had earned a reputation as a prima donna player who wanted more money that he deserved. Understandably, Senator fans were upset. That was until Turris actually started playing, he’s since found his niche as the team’s second line center. Furthermore, he looks to love it in Ottawa and contribute to the team’s future.
Rangers: Marc Staal – For the past two seasons, Marc Staal was the Rangers #1 defenseman, the cornerstone of the Rangers backend, a young shutdown player often compared to his two brothers, Eric in Carolina and Jordan in Pittsburgh. Like so many players in today’s NHL, concussion issues forced him off the ice for a good percentage of the season, but something crazy happened – the Rangers started winning like crazy without him. He should be healthy for the playoffs, but one has to wonder how much John Tortorella will play him over guys like McDonagh, Girardi, and Del Zotto, who’ve really stepped up in Staal’s absence.
Senators: Nikita Filitov – Honestly? The Senators have exceeded expectations, and I don’t think any of their players should be considered “disappointments” considering most people figured they’d be a bottom 5 team this season. So I chose Filatov, a former top-5 pick who looks more and more like a draft bust every day. Doubt you’ll be seeing Filatov in the playoffs.
Rangers: Brad Richards – The big free agent acquisition last offseason was former Dallas Stars center Brad Richards. The former Conn Smythe (that’s playoffs MVP) winner deserved the award when he helped Tampa Bay win the Cup in 2004, but since then he languished on the Stars. Now he’s on a playoff team that hopes to go far, and one has to think Richards is looking for his second Conn Smythe. He’ll have to do better than the “good but not great” 66 points he put up in the regular season.
Senators: Daniel Alfredsson – Having played for the Senators and only the Senators since 1995, Alfredsson is what you look for in a veteran captain and fan favorite. At 39 years of age, a lot of hockey fans would love to see Alfy finally get his hands on the Stanley Cup, which has eluded him his whole career, including a finals appearance in 2007. He can still put up the points and his leadership is second to none.
Rangers: Marian Gaborik – Gaborik’s been healthy all season, not missing a single game, but injury issues still linger from his time in Minnesota. When Gaborik is on, he’s practically unstoppable, but one bad play and suddenly the Rangers lose their top sniper. You also gotta think opposing teams are going to be targeted this guy.
Senators: Craig Anderson – Craig Anderson isn’t as good as Henrik Lundqvist. During the regular season, he injured his hand while cooking. If he suffers any mishaps and the Senators are forced to play backup Ben Bishop, the Senators have absolutely no shot at winning.
Rangers in 5. Try as hard as they can, the Senators cannot break Lundqvist and he leads
the Rangers to a near-sweep.