Obviously the Ottawa Senators are underdogs in this series.
Just about every so called expert has sided with the Rangers and when you consider the fact that they are the top seed in the East, you can see why. But that certainly doesn't mean that the Senators can’t beat the Rangers in this best of seven.
Here are the five keys to the series as I see it…
- Craig Anderson matches Henrik Lundqvist
In the lead up to this series we've heard about the huge advantage the Rangers have in goal. Lundqvist is a Vezina and Hart Trophy candidate this season and comes into this series with the pressure of New York City on his shoulders. At the other end, Anderson has just six games of playoff experience. In 2009/2010, Andy nearly led an upstart Avalanche team to a shocking first round upset. Anderson has to find a way to equal his counterpart at the other end of the rink and that starts with a strong first ten minutes tonight.
- Spezza and Karlsson Adjust to Physical Game
This is the other story line we have been force fed for the past week. How the big bad Rangers were going to punish the star players of the Senators. Karlsson and Spezza will both have targets on their back and are going to have to get used to being hit and hit often. It will be important to use that and avoid retaliation while making the Rangers pay on the scoreboard. If Karlsson and Spezza can absorb the physicality and still produce, the Sens are in good shape.
- Sens Pound the Rangers Defence
For me, this is the forgotten element of this series. Sure the Rangers are a big, strong hockey team, but I certainly don’t expect them to physically dominate this series. The likes of Foligno, Neil, Winchester, Smith and Greening need to finish their checks at every opportunity. The Rangers have a solid defence core but Del Zotto, Girardi, McDonagh and Staal are all relatively inexperienced. Sens need to make them pay a price every chance they get.
- Secondary Scoring
If the Rangers game plan is to target the likes of Spezza, Karlsson and Michalek then it will be crucial for guys like Alfredsson, Foligno, Turris and Greening to contribute offensively. I would expect the D-paring of Girardi and McDonagh to see a lot of the Spezza line so that second unit of Foligno-Turris-Alfredsson has to step up. Any scoring from the bottom six will be huge too.
- The Transition Game
To me, this is the clear advantage the Sens have over the Rangers. They can outskate them and in the four match ups this year, they have done exactly that. Paul MacLean’s group has to be ready to move their feet and make the defensively stubborn Rangers work their backsides off. The key here will be quick breakout passes from the defence up to the forwards, and that responsibility will largely fall on Erik Karlsson, Filip Kuba and Sergei Gonchar. If the Senators can skate like they’re capable of, they will push the East’s number one seed to the limit.
Playoffs are the time of year every hockey fan looks forward to and that every Leaf fan hears about from their parents/grandparents. Let’s make sure we enjoy this ride, Sens fans. Nobody gave this team a chance heading into this season and they surprised everyone by grabbing a spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Now let’s shock the world by knocking off the top team in the East.
GO SENS GO!
Here is how the Senators are expected to line up tonight. Looks like Matt Gilroy will play and Matt Carkner will be the healthy scratch on the blue line. Butler, Konopka and Klinkhammer are the healthy scratches up front.