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Series Preview: Ottawa Senators vs New York Rangers

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OVERVIEW

Not many people outside Ottawa or the “Sens Bubble” are giving Ottawa much of a chance to upset the #1 seeded New York Rangers.  And that should be just the way Sens fans want it, because those are the same prognosticators who predicted that Ottawa would finish 15th in the regular season and have the chance to draft Nail Yakupov.

The Rangers also exceeded expectations, but they were supposed to be a playoff contender all season, but not to the top of the Eastern Conference heap. So who will win the battle between the #1 and #8 seeds?  I will break it down for you.

SEASON SERIES

Game 1 – In the game that Wojtek Wolski (no longer with the Rangers) knocked Sens Captain Daniel Alfredsson out of the lineup with a blatant elbow, Ottawa scored 3 unanswered third period goals to erase a 4-1 deficit and Milan Michalek scored the lone shootout goal as the Senators beat the Rangers 5-4.

Game 2 – Marian Gaborik scored a pair as the Rangers defeated the Senators 3-2.  The Rangers only managed 19 shots on Craig Anderson, but 3 got past him for the lone Rangers victory against the Senators this season.

Game 3 – Craig Anderson made 34 saves for the shutout, as the Sens blanked the then league-leading Rangers 3-0.  Jason Spezza scored a pair and Erik Karlsson added two assists in the win.

Game 4 – Ben Bishop allowed a goal in the first 5 minutes, but that was all the Rangers could muster as the Senators responded with 4 of their own to take the season series 3 games to 1.

HEAD TO HEAD STATS

Here is how each teams’ top 5 skaters fared in the season series:

GPGAPTSPIM+/-
Spezza442624
Karlsson405504
Alfredsson301121
Michalek441523
Turris 21010 2
Gaborik432503
Richards42240-5
Callahan42022-4
Stepan413403
Del Zotto40112-1

Goalies:

GPWLOT/SOGASAGAASPSO
Anderson32107812.280.9141
Lundqvist31119952.920.9050

TEAM STATS (overall)

OTTNYR
82GP82
41W51
31L24
10T7
249GF226
240GA187
11th (18.2%)PP23rd (15.7%)
20th (81.6%)PK5th (86.2%)

OFFENSE

The Senators scored way more goals than the offensively challenged team was supposed to.  Spezza was the 4th leading scorer in the league, with 84 points. Karlsson lapped the field with defensive scoring, and he totalled more points than New York’s top 2 blueliners combined. Spezza and Michalek were 14th and 15th in the league in goals.

Marian Gaborik was tied for 15th in league scoring, leading the Rangers and was third in goals with 41.  Brad Richards ended the season with 20 points in his last 16 games, since the last time these teams met.

DEFENSE

Ottawa’s turnaround is due to the rebound seasons from Chris Phillips, Sergei Gonchar and Filip Kuba.  Erik Karlsson is much maligned defensively but has learned how to defend without having to make the big hit.  Karlsson is a league leader in takeaways by defensemen and although he doesn’t kill penalties he is adequate in his own end.  The key might be Jared Cowen, as the rookie will be seeing his first playoff action.  He is a hard-nosed defender who is a future shut-down guy, and that might start with an assignment against Gaborik in this series.

On the other side, the Rangers are a solid but young defense corps.  Led by Dan Girardi, they have the reputation for being prone to mistakes at times and have the safety net of Lundqvist to bail them out at times.  Marc Staal  missed half the season with a concussion, but upon his return didn’t really round into game-changing shape that he has had in past seasons.  If he cannot fill a prominent role the the Rangers will suffer

GOALTENDING

While he will be looking down the ice at a Vezina Trophy candidate (if not the winner), Craig Anderson needs to focus on his job and not worry about what happens at the other end.  His career numbers against the Rangers are stellar, and if the Senators are going to win this series that will have to continue.

Henrik Lundqvist hasn’t had the playoff success in his career that you would expect from a goalie of his stature. While his career record against Ottawa is sub-.500, his stats aren’t bad and he needs to step up and take the Rangers deep if he doesn’t want a “can’t win in the playoffs” label. He is 15-20 in his playoff career with a .905 Sp and 2.60 GAA, both a far cry from his regular season stats.

SPECIAL TEAMS

This will be a battle of the Ottawa power play vs the NYR penalty kill.  This particular matchup will be a determining factor, because if Ottawa can’t get some momentum with the man advantage, they could struggle to score.  The Rangers power play has improved of late with an increase in chemistry between Gaborik and Richards.

COACHING

Outspoken John Tortorella has a Stanely Cup ring as a head coach in Tampa, and is considered one of the top coaches in the league year after year.  Paul MacLean is in his first NHL gig as head coach, but will not be intimidated as he has been through the playoff pressure cooker as an assistant in Detroit, and he also sports a Stanley Cup ring.

WILDCARDS

Every playoff season there are unexpected performances that come out of nowhere (Joel Ward in Nashville anyone?).  If a team is going to advance deep into the playoffs, you need that “where did he come from” performance.  Here are my picks for each team to be that player –

OTTAWA – Kyle Turris – He needs to step up and be a consistent contributor if the Sens are going to get past the Rangers.  I would argue that he is the most important player for the Senators to take some pressure off Spezza, Michalek, Karlsson and Alfredsson.

NEW YORK – Carl Hagelin – The little speedster put up good supporting numbers for the Rangers after being called up in November.  Much like Turris, Hagelin can provide supporting scoring while being responsible defensively.

PREDICTION

It is tough to predict that a #8 seed will beat a #1 seed in any event.  If this series was Senators-Bruins, there is no question that I would be picking against the Senators.  However, Ottawa’s mastery of the Rangers of late, especially at MSG, lends credibility to prediciting the upset, which is exactly what I am going to do.

Jared’s Prediction : SENATORS in 6

Brandy Says : OTTAWA

Kevin Says : OTTAWA

Maybe a little bias from the Ottawa writers, but if nobody outside the city is going to give them the respect they have earned, then we will.