Finally, the New York Rangers found a way to close out a series early. Despite a hard push from the Pittsburgh Penguins and a series that had nothing but tight games, the Blueshirts were able to find ways to win, as they have done all season long.
Their reward? Some much needed rest and recovery. (And eventually a date with either the Washington Capitals or New York Islanders.)
Finishing Off Pittsburgh
It wasn’t easy for the Rangers — it never is — but given their recent history, it could have been much more difficult. When they dropped Game 2 at home to the undermanned Penguins following a Game 1 win, a six or seven-game series seemed to be in the cards for New York once again, despite their huge perceived edge over Pittsburgh.
Indeed, the remaining games in the series were all tightly contested, and all were decided by 2-1 scores. Two of those needed overtime. But it was the Rangers who emerged victorious all three times. They weren’t dominant, but they got it done, thanks in large part to their depth. Though they only scored 11 goals in the series, all but three of their skaters who dressed recorded at least one point.
“You can’t go anywhere in this league if you don’t have depth,” said head coach Alain Vigneault after the Rangers closed things out in Game 5. “You are going to get some players banged up now and then. That’s just the way the NHL is. These playoffs are a battle of survival.” (Blueshirts United)
Henrik Lundqvist’s 1.53 GAA and .939 save percentage in the series didn’t hurt either. He dealt with traffic and crease-crashing from the Penguins all series long, but was unfazed, ultimately shutting the door on Crosby, Malkin, and company.
Gearing Up for Round 2
The Rangers now await the winner of the Capitals-Islanders series. While that’s happening, they can finally reap the rewards of closing out a series quickly and get some much-needed rest and recovery. This is particularly important for a few players who are banged up.
Defenseman Kevin Klein never did make an appearance in the first round, though it seemed like he was close to playing for the first time since breaking his left arm during a game in Washington back on March 11. One would think that he could be ready in time for Game 1 against the Caps or Isles.
Winger Mats Zuccarello was a victim of friendly fire in Game 5 against Pittsburgh, taking a Ryan McDonagh slap shot off the side of his face in the first period and not returning afterward. While there was no real update after the game as to the extent of the injury, the hope is for him to be ready for Round 2. If it’s as serious as a broken jaw, maybe we’ll see the old face-shield a la Derek Stepan in last year’s playoffs.
Defenseman Keith Yandle apparently battled illness throughout the first round, and was nearly unable to play in Game 3 after not participating in the team’s morning practice that day. While he fought through the sickness, the Rangers’ deadline acquisition will no doubt be happy to have a few days to rest up and get back to full strength.
The Rangers will not play again until Wednesday at the earliest, so they have some valuable time to recharge. There will always be the age-old debate of rest versus rust, but for the Blueshirts, the former is definitely something for which they are grateful.