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Unexpected match becomes reality for Rangers, Sens

by Staff /

New York Rangers

Seed: 151-24-7109Pts.

Ottawa Senators

Seed: 841-31-1092Pts.

This is a series almost nobody expected. For weeks, the Ottawa Senators seemed locked into the No. 7 seed, but a swoon through the season's final two weeks dropped Ottawa into a matchup against the East's top team, a team that finished with 10 more wins and 17 more points.

This will certainly be a case of offense against defense.

The Rangers preach the latter and have allowed just 187 goals, the lowest total in The East and the third-lowest total in the League. Ottawa has scored a robust 249 goals this season and possess an offensive dynamo in Erik Karlsson on defense, but the Senators are also a team that has given up 240 goals, a generosity that is only topped by four other teams in this League, all of whom have been eliminated from playoff contention.

Amazingly, Ottawa did take the season series during the regular season. The Senators won three of four, including the past two. The Rangers were outscored 14-8 in the series.

The Rangers lacked scoring depth last season, but the addition of center Brad Richards has gone a long way toward alleviating that problem. The veteran is the team's second-leading scorer and has developed chemistry late in the season with Marian Gaborik, who enjoyed his second 40-goal season in the past three seasons with the Rangers.

Captain Ryan Callahan proved this season he's more than just a shot-blocking machine who provides energy with his physical play. He reached a career-high in goals (29) while playing mostly on the second line.

Center Derek Stepan followed his solid rookie season with an improved sophomore season, showing he can be a second-line center who can contribute with his passing skills. Rookie Carl Hagelin has provided speed and scoring since his call-up in November and has played on each of the team's four lines at times.

Two players who will need to do more in the postseason are Brandon Dubinsky and Brian Boyle. They combined for 45 goals last season, but have produced half that total this season.

Revivals by captain Daniel Alfredsson and center Jason Spezza, along with a breakout season by Milan Michalek have turned the Senators into one of the NHL's most dangerous attacks, oned that has scored 249 goals. Only three teams in the Eastern Conference have more goals than Ottawa..

Spezza, who many believe should be in the Hart Trophy conversation, finished with 34 goals and 84 points, his most since 2006-07. Alfredsson, meanwhile, had 27 goals, his highest total since the 40-goal season he put together in 2007-08.

 Michalek stayed healthy and blew past his previous career high of 26 goals, finishing with 35.

Nick Foligno, Colin Greening and mid-season pickup Kyle Turris provide secondary scoring. Turris has been a revelation in Ottawa, scoring 29 points in 49 games after his arrival from Phoenix. Turris never had more than 24 points in a season while with the Coyotes.

The top pairing of Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi will get the bulk of the work against the opposition's top line, a role in which they've shined this year. They aren't going to score a ton of points, but they have shown the willingness to join the rush more in the second half.

Marc Staal has improved steadily after missing the first 36 games of the season with a concussion and has worked his way up to the second pairing.

Michael Del Zotto, who has 10 goals and 41 points, leads the team's blueliners in scoring and finished fifth on the team in points. He's shuttled between the second and third pairings but is a staple on the power play.

Anton Stralman has seen his minutes diminish during the second half, but with Michael Sauer out of the lineup with a concussion and Steve Eminger dealing with an ankle injury, he moved up to the second pairing as the right-handed shot with Staal during the final two weeks.

The physical Stu Bickel, who played a few games at forward this season, rounds out the unit.

Erik Karlsson is one of the NHL's breakout players in 2011-12. He's joined Bobby Orr, Paul Coffey and Denis Potvin as the only defensemen to lead all blueliners in scoring by more than 20 points.

Karlsson finished with 78 points, easily out-distancing Winnipeg's Dustin Byfuglien and Florida's Brian Campbell.

Sergei Gonchar is slowing down but still an offensive threat, while Filip Kuba is an excellent puck-mover, and Chris Phillips and rookie Jared Cowan are solid in their own zone.

That said, though, the Ottawa Senators have had trouble in their own zone throughout the season, scoring just nine more goals than they allowed.  Only five teams allowed more goals than the 240 given up by Ottawa.


Henrik Lundqvist could be in line for his first Vezina Trophy, posting the best numbers of his career this season. Lundqvist finished with 39 wins and a 1.97 goals-against average and .930 save percentage.

Unlike last season, when he started the Rangers' final 26 games before facing the Capitals, Lundqvist made the fewest starts (61) of his career other than his rookie season.

Backup Martin Biron provides veteran insurance should Lundqvist suffer an injury.

Craig Anderson has had some wild swings this season -- but when he's been good, he's been terrific.

Anderson sees a lot of shots (more than 30 a game), but he's had five winning streaks of four or more games and is capable of stealing a game on any given night.

He finished with 33 wins, a 2.84 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage. He also had three shutouts.

Backup Ben Bishop, obtained at the NHL Trade Deadline from St. Louis, did solid work while Anderson was out for nearly a month with a late-season finger injury.


John Tortorella wrapped his third full season as Rangers coach with a team that has wholeheartedly bought into his style of play.

The Rangers take their coach's fiery approach to the ice and play a physical, structured game that feeds on defense and capitalizing on the mistakes of opponents. When the Rangers are playing mistake-free hockey within Tortorella's system, they are tough to beat.

Paul MacLean, a solid player during his career and an excellent assistant under Mike Babcock in Anaheim and Detroit, was 53 when the Senators gave him his first job as top man.

MacLean's maturity has served him well. He's  accented his team's plentiful speed and shown that he knows when to crack the whip and when to back off. The result has been one of the NHL's most improved teams from a year ago.

Special Teams

The addition of Richards this summer was supposed to provide a boost to the Rangers' power play, but that unit instead languished, finishing at less than 16 percent effectiveness.

The man-advantage unit  showed signs of life down the stretch, but it hasn't had any consistency this season.

The penalty kill, on the other hand, has been among the best in the League, finishing in the top five with a 86.4 efficiency. The Rangers are also dangerous while on the kill, finishing in the top 10 in shorthanded goals with eight.

Ottawa's power play finished just outside the Top 10, clicking at 18.2 percent.  Spezza and Michalek both reached double figures in man-advantage goals. Karlsson has been a boon to the power play -- among defensemen, only Florida's Brian Campbell has more points with the extra man than Karlsson's 28.

The penalty-killing unit finished at 81.6 percent efficiency, good for No> 20 in the League. The Senators have trouble on the kill at Scotia bank Centre. Alfredsson, though,  is among the handful of players in the League with three or more shorthanded goals.

Series Changer

Brandon Dubinsky, Rangers -- Scoring depth may well just be the biggest factor in winning a championship. With New York's reliance on playing a low-scoring, defense first style, goals can be at a premium. Dubinsky had just 10 this season. He had 44 combined in the previous two seasons. If he finds that offensive touch again and the rangers are a far more difficult squad to defend.

Erik Karlsson, Senators -- No defenseman in the NHL has come close to putting up the kind of offensive numbers that Karlsson has. His speed enables him to join the play and still get back on defense if the puck is turned over. He's the quarterback of one of the NHL's better power plays, but he's also the runaway leader in even-strength points among defensemen, as well. Opponents have to account for him joining the rush whenever he's on the ice.

What If ...

Rangers will win if … they don't beat themselves. During their month-long hiccup that started in mid-February, they became careless with the puck in the neutral zone and teams made them pay. That would be a recipe for disaster in this series.

Senators will win if... Anderson continues his sharp post-injury play, Karlsson carries his regular-season excellence into the postseason and the pairing of Spezza and Michalek continues to produce the way it did through 82 games. Expect the Senators to fare better if scores are higher.

Analysis by Dave Lozo and John Kreiser

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