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Five reasons Rangers advanced to second round

by Dan Rosen

NEW YORK -- The New York Rangers did what they were expected to do in the Eastern Conference First Round, which was advance against the Pittsburgh Penguins with little adversity.

That doesn't mean it was easy to eliminate the Penguins in five games. The Rangers won four games each by a 2-1 score and all five games were decided by one goal.

Here are five reasons the Rangers advanced to the second round:

1. Depth -- The Rangers won the Presidents' Trophy in part because of their depth, which gave them the ability to roll four lines and three defense pairs and play confidently in front of either Henrik Lundqvist or Cam Talbot.

They only used Lundqvist against the Penguins, but their depth was obvious and a major factor.

"You can't go anywhere in this League if you don't have depth," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. "You are going to need some guys to step in and play important minutes and find ways to contribute. That's just the way the NHL is. These playoffs are a battle of survival."

The Rangers got goals from each of their top three lines, including three from center Derick Brassard, two from center Derek Stepan, and overtime winners from center Kevin Hayes in Game 4 and left wing Carl Hagelin in Game 5. Hagelin scored two goals in the series.

Rick Nash, who scored a career-high 42 goals in the regular season, quietly had four points and excelled on the penalty kill.

New York's fourth line of Tanner Glass, Dominic Moore and Jesper Fast played important shifts against some of Pittsburgh's top players and controlled play with their forecheck and ability to sustain pressure in the offensive zone.

The Rangers defense activated with speed and provided offense. They got 12 points from their defensemen, including seven from the top pair of Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi.

2. Containing Malkin -- The Rangers insist they didn't do anything special to shut down Penguins center Evgeni Malkin, but it's a special performance when they can hold one of the world's best players off the score sheet for an entire series.

Malkin might have been playing with an injury, but the Rangers didn't even allow him to sniff a hot streak. He was held to no points and 11 shots on goal, including five through the first four games. Malkin had six shots on goal in Game 5.

"That tells me that we have a great goalie, some great D-men, and I think also the forwards were coming back hard at him," Hagelin said. "He's a great player, he had his chances, but [Lundqvist] found a way to save 'em."

3. Lundqvist does his job -- The Penguins tried to get in Lundqvist's face from the start of the series but they never rattled him.

"As a goalie it's important to try and take care of your own business and not get too involved in what's going on in front of you because one mistake and it's over," Lundqvist said.

He didn't make too many mistakes even though the Rangers didn't ask too much of him through the first four games because of how effective they were at limiting shots. Lundqvist faced 94 and made 87 saves through four games.

It was different in Game 5, when Lundqvist made 37 saves on 38 shots. He finished the series with a 1.53 goals-against average and .939 save percentage.

4. Speed wins -- There were times when the Penguins pushed and had the Rangers on their heels. Those times didn't last for very long, and never for back-to-back periods in the same game, because the Rangers always seemed to find a way to push back with their speed.

Whether it was through quick puck movement out of the defensive zone, or through an aggressive forecheck, the Rangers speed showed at various points in the series and it resulted in goals.

It started 28 seconds into the series, when Brassard scored off of Nash's rebound, a chance created by Girardi's stretch pass to Nash. Stepan scored in Game 2 because the Rangers moved the puck quickly to catch the Penguins in a slow line change.

Hagelin's goal in Game 3 was similar, a stretch pass from defenseman Keith Yandle that sent Hagelin in the zone with speed while the Penguins were in a line change.

"We stayed in our roles and executed the best we could," McDonagh said.

5. Special teams -- The Rangers won the special teams battle for three reasons: They scored timely power-play goals, they aggressively held the Penguins top power-play scoreless, and they stayed relatively disciplined.

The Rangers were 3-for-20 on the power play (15 percent), but McDonagh's power-play goal was the winner in Game 1 and Stepan's power-play goal gave the Rangers the early lead in Game 5.

The Penguins scored two power-play goals in Game 2, the game they won, each from their second unit. The Rangers were 9-for-9 on the penalty kill in their four wins.

Discipline was a problem for the Penguins early in the series; they gave the Rangers' 12 power plays through two games. The Rangers gave the Penguins 13 power plays for the series.


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