If you and I would have spoken after the New York Rangers’ Game 3 loss to the Montreal Canadiens on Easter Sunday at Madison Square Garden, I would have told you that the Rangers weren’t going to win another game in the series. Well, the Rangers gladly proved me wrong as they didn’t lose another game in the series.
Looking back at my Rangers column written in early March discussing their tricky standings situation, the Rangers took my advice and stayed in the first wild card spot. It has worked so far, as they avoided a first-round matchup with the Pittsburgh Penguins or the Columbus Blue Jackets. Instead, they faced the Atlantic Division bracket and defeated the Montreal Canadiens in six games in the first round.
Despite the fact that the Rangers won the series and are advancing in the playoffs, other encouraging signs from this past series include the play of goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who was shaky at times during the regular season. Lundqvist had a tremendous series against Montreal, as he posted a 1.70 goals against average (GAA), as well as a .947 save percentage. Lundqvist clearly outplayed Montreal’s goaltender Carey Price during the series, which is one of the main reasons the Rangers advanced.
Another encouraging sign for the Rangers coming out of the Montreal series is that they performed well at home. Prior to Game 4 of the series, the Rangers had a six-game losing streak at home in the playoffs dating back to the 2015 Eastern Conference Final. In this losing streak, the Rangers were outscored 21-4 at the Garden. But the Rangers broke the streak during this series with a 2-1 win in Game 4 against Montreal as well as closing out the series at home with a 3-1 victory in Game 6.
Some players who rose to the occasion during this series included veteran forward Rick Nash, who has had his playoff struggles in the past. Nash consistently drove to the net during the Montreal series and was rewarded with two goals and an assist during the series. Veteran defensemen Dan Girardi also had a good series playing on the top defensive pair with captain Ryan McDonagh, as they shut down Montreal’s top forward line which included their team captain Max Pacioretty. The defensive duo had 36 hits and 36 blocks combined in the six games.
Up next for the Rangers are the Ottawa Senators as the series gets underway tonight, April 27 in Ottawa. The Senators are not a pushover, as they looked impressive in their first round six-game series victory over the Boston Bruins. This is another winnable series for the Rangers. Players to watch out for on Ottawa include their star defenseman Erik Karlsson, along with former Rangers forward Derick Brassard who earned the nickname of “Big Game Brass” during his time on Broadway due to his clutch performances in the playoffs. Brassard led the Senators with eight points, two goals and six assists, in their first-round series victory.
With a series win over the Senators, the Rangers could advance to their first Eastern Conference Final since 2015, where they would finally have to play one of their fellow Metropolitan Division members in the Washington Capitals or Pittsburgh Penguins. Until then, we just have to hope that the Rangers keep up the momentum from their first round victory and see if they can make things interesting this spring at the Garden.