The Canadiens finished the regular season with 103 points (47-26-9) and won the Atlantic Division of the Eastern Conference. The Habs finished comfortably at the top of their division, with five points separating them from the second place Ottawa Senators. In a somewhat surprising move, the Canadiens fired head coach Michel Therrien on February 14th in order to replace him with the recently jobless Claude Julien. The reason it was somewhat surprising was because the Canadiens were still leading the Atlantic division with a record of 31-19-8 at the time of the move. Julien proved that he was up to the task of remaining on top of the division to close out the season.
New York’s Road
The Rangers finished the regular season with 102 points (48-28-6) and, somehow with those numbers, it was only good enough for fourth place in the star studded Metropolitan division. There were five teams to reach the 100 point mark in the Eastern Conference. Four of them came from the Metropolitan division. Many believe that finishing in fourth place actually benefits the Rangers this year. With the new playoff format, it sets up the Rangers path to the Eastern Conference Finals to go through the inferior Atlantic Division, as opposed to opening up with a matchup against the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins. The Rangers head into the playoffs winning only three of their final ten games, but some of those games were without key players due to minor injuries and resting for playoffs.
Carey Price: Price finished the regular season with a record of 37-20-5, 2.23 GAA, and a .923 SV%. The Canadiens are going against one of the league’s top scoring offenses in the Rangers. So, Price will have to be on top of his game in order for his team to succeed.
New York’s X-Factor
Henrik Lundqvist: Lundqvist finished the regular season with a record of 31-20-4, 2.74 GAA, and a .910 SV%. This year had multiple ups and downs for Lundqvist, with his final numbers coming in slightly below the league averages, which is unusual. However, Lundqvist has consistently shown the ability to elevate his game for the playoffs. It is pretty safe to say that Lundqvist has been the playoff X-factor for the Rangers in every series over the past decade or so.
How Montreal Will Win
The biggest key for the Canadiens to win the series will be to continue keeping the puck out of the net. Now this seems pretty self explanatory because you never want to let up goals, but the Canadiens were one of the league’s best this year in preventing them. Montreal finished the regular season with only 198 goals against, which is fourth best out of thirty teams in the league in that category. Carey Price also contributes to limiting opponents. Price ranks fifth in the league in save percentage, and he tied for fifth in goals against average out of goalies with at least forty games played. Montreal’s defensive abilities can lead them to victory.
How New York Will Win
The Rangers offensive efficiency is the key for success. Their offense is one of the most high powered in the league. New York also looks for goals from their entire team. All four lines for the Rangers offense can put the puck in the net. Chris Kreider was the leading goal scorer for the Rangers in the regular season with twenty eight. That is only tied for 31st on the league leaders list. However, as a whole, the Rangers are a scoring machine. New York netted 253 goals in the regular season, which is fourth best in the league. The Rangers averaged 3.09 goals-for per game, which is also fourth best in the league. If the Rangers offense is firing on all cylinders, they can win this series.
Who Should Win
Vegas opened the lines with Montreal being a very slight favorite over the Rangers. This does not come as much of a surprise because it is expected to be one of the closer series. The Canadiens swept the season series over the Rangers, taking all three games.
Who Will Win
Rangers win in six games. This series will be a grind for both teams and it will feature some very close games. However, the New York Rangers will advance. Yes, the Canadiens have “home ice advantage” in the series, but that will mean very little against the Rangers. The Rangers had a .667 winning percentage on the road during the regular season and that was the best in the league. The New York Rangers will survive and head to the second round.