The Rangers dealt with a physical brand of hockey in their six-game win in round one over the Montreal Canadiens. And while Ottawa is sure to not back down from finishing their checks, the battle between the two clubs in the second round appears to be one more focused on puck possession.
"I think it's two teams that want to have the puck in their hands the most, take care of it when they have it and do as quick a job and as good a job as you can to get the puck back in your hands defending-wise," captain Ryan McDonagh said on Tuesday as the Rangers prepare for Game 1 on Thursday night in Ottawa. "When you do have it, try and make the most of it. Don't give it up and try and get some scoring or offensive looks from it."
Ottawa has plenty of skill throughout its lineup with forwards Bobby Ryan, Kyle Turris and Derick Brassard, not to mention the all-world defenseman Erik Karlsson chipping in from the blueline.
But coach Guy Boucher and his Senators had great success this season by stacking numbers at center ice and preventing their opponents clean entry into their zone, often forcing clubs to dump the puck in and chase it down.
"They're good at frustrating the other team," former Senator Mika Zibanejad said. "We've got to make sure we stay calm and stick to what we do best.
"They clog up the neutral zone," Zibanejad added. "Try and frustrate you and not give you too much time. We're going to try and do the same thing, but we have our [game] to focus on."
How does a team break through that structure?
"I think if you get a chance to dump it you have to put in in the right spots," defenseman Marc Staal said. "It's a fine line between if there's a play there to be made, you make it, and if not, fight another day. We'll see what we come up with and we'll learn more as the series goes along."
While the dump and chase approach theoretically breaks through the neutral zone trap, J.T. Miller said with Ottawa's numbers back, it could make for easy breakouts. Thus, the Rangers must forecheck hard and with numbers of their own to start generating offense.
"If you just start rimming it back to the goalie or just chipping it with no body coming together, it's going to be easy breakouts for them all night," Miller said. "I don't think getting it is the issue, but getting it to where we can come up with it is definitely something we worked on."
McDonagh preached patience after Tuesday's practice and said simplicity could be the difference between success and failure.
"We'll be tested for sure," McDonagh said. "It's not going to be perfect getting through [the neutral zone] and making it tough on them. We know that simple is probably the best option and one or two passes maybe at the most. Make sure you get it behind them and make sure you've got guys going with speed.
"If we can allow ourselves to play well in our own end and not spend a lot of time there," he continued, "we can maybe catch them away from their structure in the neutral zone like that."
Coach Alain Vigneault said that while all teams have plans in place for when they do not have the puck, Ottawa's ability to thwart attacks - coupled with their skill level - is what makes them a dangerous team.
"They're a team like most of the teams in the NHL, have a way they like to play when they don't have the puck," he said. "Each team is a little different. Theirs is really nothing that we haven't seen. They apply it and apply it well. That's why - like us right now - we're down to eight teams."