For additional insight into the Eastern Conference First Round series between the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers, NHL.com has enlisted the help of Dave Farrish to break down the action. Farrish will be checking in throughout the series.
Farrish was an assistant coach for the Anaheim Ducks and Toronto Maple Leafs from 2005-14. He won the Stanley Cup with the Ducks in 2007. He also coached 1,027 games in the minor leagues, including the American Hockey League. In addition, Farrish, a former defenseman, played 430 games over seven seasons in the NHL.
The New York Islanders earned the right to play another game with their 3-1 win against the Washington Capitals at Nassau Coliseum, but former NHL assistant coach Dave Farrish said the New York Rangers also have to consider themselves big winners on Saturday.
While the Islanders and Capitals engage in what will likely be another physical game in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference First Round series on Monday at Verizon Center, the Rangers will get to relax, watch, heal any lingering injuries and know that no matter who they play in the second round they should be the fresher, healthier team.
"It really is [a big advantage]," Farrish said. "Game 7 is going to be a takeoff of [Game 6] I think, so it's going to be just as physical, if not more physical, and then the winner will turn around and start probably two or three days later [against the Rangers]. That's a huge advantage for the Rangers."
The Rangers earned that advantage on Friday with their series-clinching 2-1 overtime win against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Madison Square Garden.
Farrish was impressed with how the Rangers were able to jump out to a lead and counterpunch when the Penguins started to push and tie the game. He credited center Dominic Moore for the work he did on left wing Carl Hagelin's overtime winner, and said Hagelin deserves a lot of credit for scoring the series-clinching goal and the first goal in New York's 2-1 win in Game 3.
"Two huge goals," Farrish said.
Although Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury fell short, Farrish said he made general manager Jim Rutherford's decision to sign him to a four-year contract in November look smart. Fleury made 34 saves in Game 5 and stopped 139 of 150 shots in the series for a .927 save percentage.
"Not too many detractors now," Farrish said. "What sticks out is the opportune saves by [Henrik] Lundqvist, the really timely saves that he made. But Fleury did everything possible he could do to win."
The Rangers did just enough to beat him, particularly because Lundqvist allowed eight goals on 132 shots in the series.
The expectation is he'll have to be as good, if not even better, in the second round against either the Islanders or the Capitals.
Farrish said the Islanders would be the better opponent for the Rangers because of their injuries on defense; Travis Hamonic, Calvin de Haan and Lubomir Visnovsky did not play Saturday.
Pittsburgh was missing Kris Letang, Christian Ehrhoff and Derrick Pouliot in the first round. Those injuries significantly altered the type of attack the Penguins could generate from their back end and it gave a major edge to the Rangers, who got 12 points from their six defensemen.
"I just think the Islanders with their injuries on defense makes them a little more susceptible, but you wouldn't know it [Saturday]," Farrish said. "But over the course of time any of those inches in depth, and it showed against Pittsburgh, it gives you the edge. If the Rangers can stay healthy and they can pick on a team with some injuries, and obviously there are going to be some more minor injuries appearing with both of these teams because it's a pretty physical series, that's what I'd lean toward if I was them. But it's dangerous picking your opponent because they always bite you."
The Rangers obviously can't pick who they play, but Farrish said the coaching staff has to prepare for both and that's why this is a working weekend for them. The players have off until Monday.
"That's the problem when you don't know who your opponent is going to be, so you have to prepare for both of them," Farrish said. "This is when all the coaches and assistant coaches earn their pay, when they start having to prepare for two teams. It's a lot of work for the coaching staff and video staff to get all this stuff done and be prepared for either way it goes.
"I'm sure they've been cutting clips [Saturday] and doing everything they can."
Farrish said the Rangers' practice on Monday, if they get on the ice, will likely be more of a general practice to work on some things that the coaches feel were lacking or needed help in the Pittsburgh series.
The practice on Tuesday will be focused more toward the opponent New York will face in the second round. Farrish said it's important for coaches in this situation not to deliver the information on both teams to the players but instead to wait until the opponent is known.
"I think you wait until Tuesday," he said. "You don't want to confuse the players. Let them get their heads clear, let them relax a little bit, enjoy their victory and heal up a little bit. The players know what's going on. I'm sure they're confident in the coaching staff to prepare them for either way it goes. I'm sure every player has his preference on who he'd like to play. Obviously they're not going to say anything, but it's just a waiting game. I think they feel good about that and they're hopefully going to catch a tired team and jump on them pretty quick."