After a lengthy layoff, the Pittsburgh Penguins finally know who they will face in round two of the playoffs. The Washington Capitals lost to the Philadelphia Flyers tonight in a Game 7 overtime thriller, which means that the Penguins will face off against the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. The Montreal Canadiens, seeded #1 in the East, will get paired with the Philadelphia Flyers who hold the lowest seed of the advancing teams. Had the Capitals won, it would have been a Penguins-Capitals matchup for Round 2. Instead, it will be a fight between two teams that advanced out of the first round the quickest.
The Penguins were the first team to advance and the only Round 1 sweep having beaten the fading Ottawa Senators in 4-games while trouncing them on the scoresheets 16-5. The Penguins averaged 4-goals per game and red hot Marc-Andre Fleury posted a scathing 1.26 goals against average and a 0.955 save percentage. The Penguins got contributions up and down their lineup in Round 1 with only 4-skaters going pointless in the 4-game series (Hal Gill, Adam Hall, Brooks Orpik and Kris Letang). Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Marian Hossa, Ryan Malone and Petr Sykora combined for 28-points (10G, 18A). The Penguins netted 6 of their 16 goals on the power play, and gave up just 1-goal while on the penalty kill. After a lengthy wait, a rested and healthy Penguins team are itching to get back into the action.
The Rangers were the second team to advance out of Round 1 by eliminating Martin Brodeur and the New Jersey Devils in 5-games by outscoring them 19-12. The Rangers averaged 3.8 goals per game in round 1, finding balanced scoring across their lineup. Jaromir Jagr (2G, 6A), Scott Gomez (3G, 4A), Brandon Dubinsky (3G, 3A) and Martin Straka (3G, 2A) led the scoring for the Rangers. Henrik Lundqvist was phenomenal giving up just 1-goal in each of the first 2-games, but softened in games 3-5 where he gave up 3.3 goals average per game. Lundqvist ended the first round with a 2.35 goals against average and a 0.917 save percentage. Just 3 of the Rangers’ 19-goals came on the power play, while 5 of their 12 goals against came while they were on the penalty kill. Being plenty rested themselves, the Rangers are also eager to get back on the ice.
The Penguins and Rangers met 8-times during the regular season. Pittsburgh went 3-3-2 in the series, and was outscored by New York 21-16. However, the Penguins played better against the Rangers in the latter half of the season. Through the first 4-games, they were 1-2-1 against the Rangers and were outscored 12-6. After the 1st of January, the Penguins went 2-1-1 against the Rangers and outscored them 10-9.
The Rangers will certainly be a formiddable foe in round 2 as their offensive stars have shined in the playoffs. The Rangers offense are healthy and firing on all cylinders. Unlike round 1, the Penguins won’t have the luxury of facing a depleted and faltering offensive lineup. The Penguins will need Marc-Andre Fleury and the defensive corps to bring their A-game to shut down the potent offense of the Rangers. With a high-powered offense of their own, the Penguins will need to put relentless pressure on Henrik Lundqvist from the start and prevent him from gaining back any of the confidence he exhibited in games 1 and 2. As is often the case in playoffs, special teams will likely be a difference maker. The Penguins special teams have the advantage in this series.
Game 1 between the Penguins and Rangers will be played on Friday, 25 April. Games 2, 3 and 4 will follow on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday respectively.