GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- New York Rangers coach Alain Vigneault at various points this season has brought up the need to have four interchangeable lines, all with speed, skill and scoring, in order to win in the NHL, especially in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
It looks like he found the four he was looking for in the Eastern Conference First Round against the Montreal Canadiens. They are four of the biggest reasons the Rangers feel confident about their chances of defeating the Ottawa Senators in the second round.
Game 1 is at Canadian Tire Centre on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; CNBC, CBC, TVA Sports).
"Depth is such a big thing," center Mika Zibanejad said. "You look at Pittsburgh last year, I don't think a lot of people thought [Phil] Kessel would play with [Carl] Hagelin and [Nick] Bonino, but that worked out and was probably their best line in the playoffs. We have depth but the lines are really good too. We have goal-scorers on each line."
The Rangers are the only team still playing with a 20-goal scorer on each of their four lines. It makes deciphering the order of their lines nearly impossible.
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Rick Nash (23 goals) plays on what probably is their first line with Derek Stepan and Jimmy Vesey. Chris Kreider (Rangers-high 28 goals) is on the so-called second line with Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich.
J.T. Miller (22 goals) is on what is generally seen as the third line with Kevin Hayes and Mats Zuccarello.
Isn't it somewhat strange that the third line features the Rangers' leading scorer in the regular season, Zuccarello, who had 59 points (15 goals, 44 assists) and scored two goals in the Rangers' series-clinching 3-1 win in Game 6 against Montreal? That just speaks further to their depth.
And, Michael Grabner (27 goals) is on what is arguably the fourth line with Oscar Lindberg and Jesper Fast.
"We don't really have a 1, 2, 3 and not even a 1, 2, 3, 4," Miller said. "That's definitely a weapon for us."
It's the weapon that hurt the Rangers in the playoffs last season, when they their first-round series to the Penguins in five games.
The Rangers, like every other team that tried, couldn't match the Penguins' speed or depth, not with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kessel on separate lines. Now teams are finding it difficult to match the Rangers' speed and depth even if the names aren't as big as Pittsburgh's.
In the regular season, the Rangers had four forwards with 50 or more points and six with 40 or more. That doesn't include Nash, who had 38 points but missed 15 games because of an injury. It also doesn't include Zibanejad, who had 37 points but missed 26 games because of injury.
The only other teams still in the playoffs with as many as six 40-point forwards, and as many as four with 50, are the Edmonton Oilers and Washington Capitals.
The Rangers don't have nearly the same high-end skill as those teams or the Penguins, but the drop-off from their first to their 12th forward is minimal. The Canadiens found out the hard way after Vigneault put Buchnevich in the lineup for Tanner Glass in Game 4.
The first line (Nash) scored the winner in Game 4. The second line (Zibanejad) scored the winner in Game 5. The third line (Zuccarello) scored the winner in Game 6. The fourth line (Fast) scored two goals in the process.
Glass, by the way, scored the winner in Game 1.
Video: NYR@MTL, Gm1: Glass picks the corner off a faceoff
"It's so hard to be consistent every game so you need that from your team, someone stepping up each time, making a difference," Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh said. "Having that depth and playing to that depth too is key. You can have it, but we like to roll our four lines, keep everybody fresh, keep everybody involved because it keeps you in rhythm all the way through."
Playing that way in the second round should play to the Rangers' advantage too, because the Senators ride their top two defense pairs heavily.
Erik Karlsson, Marc Methot, Dion Phaneuf and Cody Ceci each played more than 20 minutes per game against the Boston Bruins in the first round, with Karlsson averaging more than 30 and Phaneuf and Ceci more than 25. Granted, the Senators played four overtime games, including one that went to double overtime, but the minutes add up and take a toll.
That could be magnified now that the Senators are facing an opponent with four efficient scoring lines. The Bruins gave them problems despite not having the same depth as New York.
"The physical presence is key," Zibanejad said. "We know who is playing a lot so we can try to be on them a little bit more and get them to be a little tired. You try to take advantage of every little thing you can."