Rangers Advance Despite Room for Improvement

After 420 minutes of hockey the Rangers advance past their first round matchup against the Philadelphia Flyers winning 2-1 at Madison Square Garden in game 7. Going into the third period the Rangers had a 2-0 lead and several chances to score a third goal that would have served as a nail in the coffin but they were unable to put their feet on their throats and instead aloud a goal at the other end by Jason Akeson. Eventually the time expired as it always does and the Rangers came away with the win to secure their spot in the second round for the third straight year.

The blueshirts inability to seal the deal when given the opportunity extends beyond this game and beyond this series. With losses in games 2 and 4 to follow wins in the previous outings, the Rangers were able to extend on a record that is nothing to brag about. The Rangers have lost an NHL record 11 straight games when up in a series, with their last four series wins coming in game 7s.

Game 7 is the greatest spectacle in sports but it is not the way for a team to preserve their energy for a playoff run that often extends past the 100-game mark for the season total. No team has ever won the Stanley Cup in the maximum 28 playoff games and in fact no team has ever made it past the third round after going 7-deep in the first two rounds.

I’m sure Rangers fans everywhere cannot wait to see that horrible 11-game record streak come to an end. Before the Rangers try to do just that against the Penguins here are some of the positives and negative of the New York Rangers first round victory:

+Rolling Four Deep, The Spirit of St. Louis and Mostly Quiet Flyers

When the playoffs roll around NHL coaches will become less and less forthcoming, offering up cliched answers about what it will take to win. Among these repetitive comments is one of the keys to the playoffs: having four productive lines or ‘rolling four deep.’ The Rangers depth in the first round was a key to their success. Not only did all four forward lines produce offense but all three defensive lines were equally interchangeable. Going forward, depth could be the Rangers strongest point against a Penguins team that has a lack of depth and has been injury prone and decimated most of the year. When you are able to get two goals a piece from Dominic Moore and Daniel Carcillo, the latter only playing in three games, it takes a ton of pressure off of star players and often translates to winning a series.

Martin St. Louis had a rocky start to his Rangers career but he seems to have shed the early funk and was perhaps the best player on the ice for the blueshirts in the first round. St. Louis coming into his own was well worth the wait after he finished the series tied for the team lead in 2 goals, 4 assists and 6 points. His progress may be tied into Alain Vigneault finally finding the right line combination for him with Stepan and Nash after trying nearly every other combination.

Often the numbers don’t do justice to watching the games and the eye test showed that the Rangers were able to quiet nearly every one of the Flyers key players. Wayne Simmonds filled up his stat sheet with a hat trick in game 6 but was held to one goal and one assist in the other six games and finished the series with a -2. The Flyers captain Claude Giroux was unable to even get a shot on net in the first few games and finished with only two goals. The Rangers also made playoff experienced veteran Vincent Lecavalier a non-factor in the entire series.

Despite the series win, it wasn’t all good.

-Lack of Discipline, Lack of Powerplay, Lack of McDonagh

Going into this series, the Rangers expected for the Flyers to come out and try to set the tone physically, even if it meant spending some extra time in the penalty box. For the Rangers, the proper response to this physicality would have been to not back down but to also not allow it to interfere with them playing their game. Instead, they fell into an identity crisis as they attempted to reciprocate the Flyers style of play. Players like Benoit Pouliot and Carl Hagelin took unnecessary penalties and the team as a whole did not play the disciplined hockey that has been a hallmark of what has gotten them this far. Going forward, it will be important for the blueshirts to play the game on their terms regardless of the opposition.

Even when the Rangers were able to get the mad advantage due to the Flyers aggressive style, they were unable to take advantage of the opportunities. The Rangers powerplay started extremely hot and by series end was atrocious to put it lightly. It was not a case of good goaltending, the puck bouncing the wrong way or anything of that sort. The Flyers made an adjustment on the penalty kill early in the series and the Rangers were baffled and unable to even muster a slight attack on the powerplay for the remainder of the series. With the Rangers powerplay woes of the past seeming to end this season only to resurface in the first round it will be important to get that unit back on track for Friday night in Pittsburgh.

Ryan McDonagh missed the last few games of the regular season on a despicable hit from Alex Burrows that by some chance never got seen by the league office or was flatly ignored. Since his return for the start of the playoffs he has not looked as comfortable with or without the puck and this has to change sooner rather than later as he was perhaps the most important Ranger during the regular season. With seven games under his belt it is important that the Ryan McDonagh who was mentioned in the same sentence as the Norris Trophy during the season returns to form.

(Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports)
(Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports)

For the Rangers to make the leap from a perennial playoff presence to a true cup contender, they must show more desperation and killer instinct when given the opportunity to close a team out. At no point did this series seem like the Flyers were in control. Most of the series was dominated by the Rangers including the shot total and pacing of the games with the lone exception being the Flyers advantage on face offs. The Flyers never held a series lead and in the games where the series was tied they never led after any period. Many thought this series could easily go to seven games but the fact of the matter is that the Flyers did not play as well as anticipated having the second lowest shots per game, 5-on-5 plus/minus, and goals per game of all 16 playoff teams. Despite the Flyers underachieving, it took the Rangers seven games to finish them off and cutting that down to four, five or even six could be  a key to the Rangers seeing a Stanley Cup in the Henrik Lundqvist era.