Who’s Taking Round One?

cat tacopinaOne of the worst parts about having a weekly sports column at a college newspaper that has vacation weeks is when you miss out on writing about the more exciting parts of a season: Playoffs.

Sure, the New York Rangers have had some exciting matchups in the past several seasons, but this year’s contest features a first-round meeting with the Philadelphia Flyers. The Rangers are up 2-1 on the series and currently have the momentum in their favor, but there’s a lot of hockey left in this round. Let’s look at the strengths of each team.

Why The Rangers Will Win:

The Rangers finished ahead of the Flyers and earned home-ice advantage by doing so. While the Rangers would get that final Game Seven if it comes down to the wire, there’s plenty of hope to have that that won’t be the case. Home-ice advantage is great, but the Rangers are one of the best teams on the road, and that’s going to help them clinch the series before it comes to a Game Seven.

The Rangers were  25-14-2 while playing away this season, which bests the Flyers’ 18-16-7 record away from the Wells Fargo Center. The Rangers have already beaten the Flyers away from home this series, and there’s a high possibility they’ll be able to do it again.

The Rangers may not have as wide of a goalscoring distribution as the Flyers, but the Rangers do have a much better defense, goaltending included. It’s also worth mentioning that, while the Rangers tend to not get as much scoring from their top offensive players during the regular season, players like Brad Richards and Rick Nash have been major catalysts and point earners at a time where they have to be.

The Rangers will win this series because they have the defense to shut down Philadelphia, they’re getting the scoring they need from their top-line players and, even though they do have home-ice advantage, they have a tremendous road record, which they have continued to improve on this series.

Why The Flyers Will Win:

After a slow offensive start from players like Captain Claude Giroux and Scott Hartnell this season, the Flyers turned that around by season’s end. The Flyers had nine players on their team with more than 10 goals this season, and seven of those scored more than  20. The spread of scoring ability on the Flyers is better, even if the Rangers, even if the Rangers did have 10 players with at least 10 goals during the regular season.

Commentators on NBC and on MSG as well have both said the Rangers just have to be patient when it comes to beating the Flyers; like most Flyer teams, they’ll crack and rack up penalties and an opponent’s power play opportunities increase. However, even though the Rangers won Game Three, the Rangers proved that they have a discipline problem as well.

Was Carcillo’s goal celebration after that penalty among the best in Rangers history? Yes. Was it fun and vindicating? Yes.

But it shouldn’t have happened. The Rangers aren’t as youthful as they were during that 2012 playoff run, but there are  enough players on the team who don’t have the experience to teach them the discipline they need when going against a team like the Flyers. Though the Flyers aren’t the most sparkling, sportsmanlike team, the Rangers’ discipline problems have been overlooked for too long. The Flyers will win if they can pester the Rangers enough to take stupid penalties.

 Who Really Wins?

The Rangers will win this series. Though it’s debatable as to whether they’ll win in five or six games is up in the air, the series won’t go to seven games. Simply put, the Rangers are (and have looked) like the better team.

Aside from Game Two, the Rangers have looked like the more dominant team for at least 40 minutes of the game. They’re more solid defensively and in goal, and they’re getting contributions from both their top and bottom lines. The loss in Game Two was a fluke. NBC’s Mike Milbury was spot-on when he said the Rangers got too comfortable with their two-goal lead and weren’t able to come back once the Flyers got momentum on their side. It was a mistake that isn’t going to happen again. The Rangers will take this series not because of heroics, but because they are better.