April 24, 2008

From the Enemy Side of Things


For a perspective from the other side, I recruited Patrick Hoffman to give us a preview of the Pens-Rangers from the Blueshirts side of the ice. Patrick has covered the NHL since 2003. He has worked for a variety of hockey media sources including: Stan Fischler, Spector’s Hockey, HockeyBuzz.com, TheHockeyNews.com, McKeen’s Hockey, Blueshirt Bulletin, NY SportsDay, and HokejaVestnesis.com. Check out his Rangers blog over at The Hockey News

For the first time since the 1995-96 season, the New York Rangers will take on the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Back then, the Rangers had a lot to handle as the Penguins had Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Ron Francis, Petr Nedved, Tomas Sandstrom, and Sergei Zubov. If anyone remembers, the Rangers were blown out of the water in that series as the Penguins defeated them in five games thanks to their high-powered offense and some splendid goaltending from Ken Wregget.

This season, the Rangers are in a similar situation as they get set to take on a Penguins team that has an explosive offense with guys like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Marian Hossa, Petr Sykora and Ryan Malone. However, unlike the 1995-96 season, I believe the Rangers will defeat the Penguins in this year’s playoff bout.

To start, the Blueshirts won five of the eight games between the two clubs this season, including four wins at Madison Square Garden. Despite Pittsburgh’s offensive lineup, the games were relatively close and the Rangers did a solid job of shutting down the Penguins’ top offensive players and were able to get big performances out of their own offensive stars in Scott Gomez, Sean Avery, Chris Drury and Jaromir Jagr while also getting solid goaltending from Henrik Lundqvist.

Yes, I know that you fans out there will tell me that the regular season means nothing when it comes to the playoffs but all I am trying to say is that if the Rangers can implement the same style they used against the Penguins in the regular season, they have a good chance of upsetting the Penguins in the second round.

Secondly, the Rangers’ offense is nothing to slouch about. With guys like Jagr, Gomez, Avery, Drury, Brendan Shanahan, Martin Straka coupled with the team’s youth in guys like Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan and Nigel Dawes, this team can score goals. Sure, the Blueshirts may not have the arsenal that the Penguins have but in the playoffs, it’s all about timely goal scoring and with all the veterans mentioned in the previous sentence, the Rangers have plenty of guys that can come through in the clutch.

And although the Rangers’ defense may not have any Sergei Gonchar’s or Ryan Whitney’s or Darryl Sydor’s, they still get the job done where it matters the most: their own zone. During the regular season, the Rangers were fourth in the league in goals against with a stingy 2.32 goals against per game while the Penguins were 10th in the league with by average 2.58 goals against per game.

Lastly, let’s not forget that the Rangers have Lundqvist, a three-time Vezina Trophy finalist, in goal. He may not be as flashy or as quick as Penguins’ netminder Marc-Andre Fleury, who is playing the best hockey of his young career, but Lundqvist knows how to make the big save and has a lot more playoff experience than Fleury does. This season against the Pens’, Lundqvist was 5-3 with a 1.86 goals against average and a .916 save percentage. Those certainly aren’t bad numbers against a team that was seventh in the league in goals scored.

Again, the Rangers may not be as fast, as young or as offensive as the mighty Penguins are but they have the right tools and chemistry that can help win big playoff games, something a lot of these Penguin players have never been a part of.

As such, I predict that the Rangers will knock out the Penguins in six games. If I’m wrong, I will be the first to admit it and will root for the young Penguins as they go forward in this year’s Cup tournament.

For questions, comments and hockey talk, feel free to e-mail me at patrickhoffm@gmail.com.

Ballhype: hype it up!

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