Find out a little more about what our adversaries think of Henrik Lundqvist, the Madison Square Garden curse, and a number of other tasty tidbits.
1) Henrik Lundqvist certainly didn’t start this season so hot, but has returned to elite form in recent weeks. Given that he put up solid performances in playoffs past, how big of a difference maker do you expect him to be in this series?
If Lundqvist proved anything last season, it’s that goalies can have the biggest singular influence on a series. Lundqvist put the Rangers on his back for Game’s 6 and 7 in the first round a year ago against the Capitals, posting shutouts in both contests. So I expect him to be a huge difference maker. He knows the Rangers’ window to close a Cup is closing, and he’s constantly said how important it is for him to win a Cup in New York. I actually talked to Lundqvist right around when he was coming out of that early season slump and he’s simply been night and day from where he was the first few months of this year. Cam Talbot got a lot of playing time this year, and considering it’s an Olympic year, it’s going to help Lundqvist out big time as far as staying fresh come playoffs time. Lundqvist will be in top form once the puck drops Thursday, which generally spells bad news for opposing teams.
2) A lot has been written about the fact that the Flyers haven’t won in Madison Square Garden in quite some time. How much stock do you put into that streak in determining the final outcome of the series? Is it just silliness or do the Rangers have a real edge because of that?
I think it actually means more to the Flyers than the Rangers. If guys are gripping their sticks too tight and trying to make the perfect pass because it’s in the back of their minds, that’s the only place it will manifest itself. I don’t think the Rangers will play any more confidently, unless they come out and win those first two games. MSG is always pretty crazy during the postseason, and that’s a much bigger factor than the Flyers’ winless streak. It’s mostly just an easily contrived storyline, but the Flyers can’t let it get to their heads. If they drop two games at MSG to open the series, winning four out of the next five is a pretty difficult task.
3) The Flyers and Rangers seem about equal in terms of forward depth. We all know that depth is the key to winning and going deep in the playoffs -- which team has the edge here?
Overall, I think the Flyers are deeper at the forward position. You’re talking about a team with seven 20+ goal scorers, so it’s tough to really argue against that. Any team that has Vincent Lecavalier as its fourth line center is undoubtedly "deep." But on that topic, the Rangers bottom six is as good its been in recent memory, and one of the best bottom six's in all of the NHL. I still think the Flyers are a deeper team at the forward position, but the Rangers certainly aren’t slouches in that department.
4) What matchup do you think that the Rangers can exploit and what is one that might give them trouble? Matt Read and Sean Couturier have been fantastic at shutting down opposing teams’ top lines, can they do the same against Rick Nash, Derek Stepan, and Martin St. Louis?
This kind of goes back to what I was talking about with the Rangers bottom six. Their third line of Mats Zuccarello, Derick Brassard, and Benoit Pouliot has been incredibly effective. Even the fourth line of Brian Boyle, Dominic Moore, and Dan Carcillo has been really strong. That’s not to say those guys will win this series for the Rangers by themselves, but they’re going to really make things difficult for Philadelphia. If those lines start finding the back of the net, the Flyers are in a world of trouble.
Whenever Claude Giroux is on the ice, he should expect to see a healthy dose of Ryan McDonagh, but Giroux causes matchup problems for the entire league. If the Flyers can get one of their skill lines out against the Rangers second unit of Carl Hagelin, Brad Richards, and Jesper Fast, a trio that’s not exactly strongest in its own zone, Philly should be able to generate some good offense there. But I’m being really serious when I say the Flyers need to be wary of the Rangers bottom six. Last season, the Bruins fourth line practically eliminated the Rangers in the conference semis. Goals are goals, no matter where you get them from.
5) Last but not least, who do you (honestly!) think will emerge victorious and why?
I picked the Rangers in 6 for our SB Nation predictions and I’m sticking with that. If Ray Emery struggles early on, and has to play both games in New York, the Rangers are going to return to Philly with a ton of confidence, and this Rangers team set a franchise record for road victories.
Many thanks to Evan for helping us out. This playoff series is sure to be intense -- make sure you pick up the Rangers' perspective on things over at Blueshirt Banter.