The New York Rangers won their Game Seven against the Flyers Wednesday night and will face the Pittsburgh Penguins in the round of seven. However, the unanswered questions facing both teams moving on in this second round will eventually be answered and are sure to be the biggest keys to which team will move on.
The Pittsburgh Penguins closed out their series against the Columbus Blue Jackets last Monday, but the fight from the Jackets may have brought forth a few “old”-along with some new- question marks moving forward into this next series with the New York Rangers. These question marks regarding the team are “old” for one specific reason: everybody knew coming into the playoffs that the Pens playoff run will inevitably rely on their goalie, Marc-Andre Fleury.
Some of the “old” questions Pens fans understand all too well goes as follows: Which Fleury will show up to play today? Can Fleury bounce back after losing a heart-breaker? And will Fleury remain calm and cool in net, or flail around, putting himself in terrible positions to make saves? Those questions- and more- about Fleury still remain unanswered as the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde versions of the netminder were in full swing throughout this first round matchup. Fleury at times would give up a goal that would make fans scratch their heads, but then right after would stop a breakaway chance with an acrobatic, all-star-type of play. Unfortunately for the Penguins moving on, this series with the Jackets may have also brought up a new question mark surrounding the play of their team as well.
Do the Penguins lack the ability to finish? Before the playoffs began, if someone was to ask the question: if the Penguins got off to a two-goal or even a three-or-four-goal lead, would they win the game? The answer would have unequivocally been, yes. However, now the answer may not be as obvious. This series saw three different two-goal and one three-goal leads disappear and end in heartbreak for both the Pens and Jackets. Those comebacks can be seen in two different lights by the Penguins: One, the fact that the Pens showed enough fight to come back in two games when they were down by two-goals are amazing tests of character moving into the next round; or Two, the fact that the Penguins gave up a two-goal and a three-goal lead (and almost even a four-goal lead) is extremely worrisome. If the Penguins cannot hold an offensive team like the Columbus Blue Jackets at bay long enough to hold onto a two, three and almost a four-goal lead, how will they be able to stop a team with the potential offensive firepower of the New York Rangers?
Luckily for the Penguins, they are not the only team moving into this second round matchup with unanswered questions, as the New York Rangers were pushed to the brink by the Philadelphia Flyers. The Rangers saw production come from every single line in the first round series, with 17 of their 20 skaters recording at least a point. However, if the Rangers hope to move past the Pittsburgh Penguins, their top-line forwards are going to need to step up and score in order to keep the pressure up on a net-minder like Marc-Andre Fleury, who looks to still be lacking confidence.
One lurking question moving into this next series for the Rangers is: will Rick Nash score a goal? Rick Nash is coming into this series with the Pens having scored zero goals. This drought, however, is not for lack of effort as Nash leads the New York Rangers in shots attempted with 30. If Rick Nash can find the back of the net against Fleury and the Pens, the Rangers will have a much better shot at getting past the Penguins.
Another question facing the Rangers is: will the defensive crew of Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonaugh, Marc Staal and Anton Stralman be able to contain the ever improving play of Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby. Malkin finally showed up on the score sheet and he did it in a big way, recording a hat-trick, single-handedly taking out the Blue Jackets in Game Six. If the gifted forwards of the Pittsburgh Penguins can keep up offensive zone pressure long enough or can create enough odd-man rushes in order to create more scoring chances, it will be hard for the Rangers defense and Henrik Lundqvist to withstand the stress and win the series.
The New York Rangers are most definitely facing an uphill battle versus the Pittsburgh Penguins, but with their depth and talent, it can be done. The tandem of Martin St. Louis and Rick Nash will again have to improve on their first round stats and they should be able to facing a Pens defense that has played sub-par. To go along with those two players improving on their stats, the “King” in net for the Rangers may also have to steal a game or two with all-star play in order to win. Again, the questions surrounding both of these teams play will surely be answered in this series. Depending on how and who answers these questions will certainly determine who moves on to the Conference Championship.
Commentary by Ryne Vyles