The New York Rangers and Ottawa Senators face off in the Eastern Conference semifinals starting Thursday, April 27. There are several key things each team needs to do to win.
For the Rangers, they have to focus on playing the roles that are assigned to them: Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist needs to shine in net; defenseman Ryan McDonagh needs to lead like a captain; and forward Mats Zuccarello needs to hustle like he did in the Rangers’ first-round series against the Montreal Canadiens.
The Rangers go into the conference semifinals finally winning at home. They won more games on the road than any team in the NHL during the regular season (27), but they ranked at the bottom in wins at home (55%). If the Blueshirts are to win this series, they need to turn in a great home performance, and they may need to rely on the energy in Madison Square Garden.
The Rangers will also need to dominate possession and push the puck up the ice. Against the Canadiens, they were often caught playing defense for long amounts of time, which tired out Lundqvist and the New York defenders. If this happens against the Senators—despite the fact that Lundqvist has had a .947 save percentage and 1.70 goals allowed per game in the playoffs—the Rangers will not be able to advance because of all the scoring opportunities Ottawa will have.
On the other hand, if the Rangers are able to dominate possession, Zuccarello, Rick Nash, Chris Kreider, and Derek Stepan will have chances to put the puck in the back of the net, which is what they do best.
Power plays should also be a point Rangers coach Alain Vigneault is addressing with his team. During the regular season they were 10th in the league with a 20.3% power play goal percentage, which was huge for them. But during the first round, they were tied for last among all playoff teams, converting on just one of 15 power play opportunities. It was a big one, though: Zuccarello scored on a power play in Game 6 against Montreal to clinch the series.
The Senators will need to rely heavily on the leadership of goaltender Craig Anderson. But their ability to win will be determined by the health of defenseman and captain Erik Karlsson, who has two hairline fractures in his heel. His ability to play through injury will decide if the Senators advance. Teammates such as Bobby Ryan and former Ranger Derick Brassard will have to step up for the Sens.
Ottawa proved to be the team with more stamina during the series against the Bruins. This was evident in the Senators’ ability to win three of the four games in overtime, including the series clincher in Game 6. The Sens can use this to their advantage against the Rangers.
Ottawa also has a hot hand in Bobby Ryan, who scored four goals in the first round, making him the team leader in goal scoring during the playoffs thus far. Brassard will face off against his former mates with a hot hand as well, having earned eight points against the Bruins.
The Senators had good and bad offensive games in their first-round series against Boston but ended up averaging only 2.5 goals per game. Despite their captain being hurt, they should be able to do better than that offensively, which will be tough against a red-hot Lundqvist. The important thing for them will be to make quick decisions and try to catch the Rangers off-guard defensively. They need to attack the net and get deflections to keep Lundqvist working and eventually flick one past him.
The Rangers are a very physical team—they led all teams in the first round in hits with an average of 47.5 per game. To win, Ottawa must be able to withstand the Rangers’ physicality.
Photographs by Jared Silber/NHLI/Getty Images (Lundqvist); Brian Babineau/NHLI/Getty Images (Senators)