As the New York
Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers prepare to do post-season battle for the first
time since Wayne Gretzky wore a Blueshirt, the matchup is as even as any first
round series in the NHL.
On paper, the
Rangers appear to have a slight edge, but as any fan knows, paper can go out
the window in the NHL playoffs. Let’s take a look at three key areas to this
Advantage: New York Rangers (Henrik Lundqvist)
Mason has been a solid netminder for the Flyers this season, his final regular
season game injury and the insertion of Ray Emery into the lineup for Game 1
could set the tone for the series. Frankly, there hasn’t been any stability in
the Philadelphia nets since Ron Hextall (and perhaps John Vanbiesbrouck) and
neither Mason nor Emery are going to solve that.
On the flip
side, Henrik Lundqvist has been the model of consistency for the Rangers since
he usurped the position from veteran Kevin Weekes following the 2004 lockout.
Despite Lundqvist’s uncharacteristic first half of the season, where a contract
renewal and new pads derailed his Vezina-caliber play, “The King” was one of
(if not the) the best NHL goaltenders following the Olympics. Lundqvist has a
clear advantage over Mason and Emery and may be the single most important
factor to this series.
Advantage: Philadelphia Flyers
finished the regular season atop the standings for both penalty kill and power
play (3rd and 8th, respectively). Led by a 19.7% success
rate with the man advantage, the Flyers were able to be competitive all season
despite a lackluster defense. New York will want to stay out of the penalty box
as much as possible in this series.
Blueshirts, the special teams were good, just not as good. Finishing the
regular season at 15th on the power play (18.2%) is a step in the
right direction for the franchise, but they were unable to maintain the early
season success through Game 82. On the penalty kill, however, the Rangers were
dominant finishing 3rd in the NHL with a kill rate of 85.3%. An
interesting twist is with Head Coach Alain Vigneault using scorers Rick Nash
and Martin St. Louis on the PK, the Rangers have created a good number of
edge still goes to Philadelphia.
INAUGURAL HEAD COACH:
Advantage: New York Rangers
Coach Craig Berube has paid his dues both as a player and head coach. Coming up
through the ranks with the AHL Phantoms beginning in 2006, Berube has had
success at every hockey level. This season has been no exception for the rookie
NHL coach. Despite some bouncing around between the AHL and NHL as an assistant
coach, Berube got the full-time gig after Peter Laviolette started the season
0-3-0. He has done a terrific job battling thru a changing lineup and managing
some strong egos in the locker room. Can his collected demeanor last into the
NHL playoffs? It’s difficult for any first year coach.
Across the ice,
Vigneault is the model of consistency only a veteran coach can exude. In his
first season on Broadway, Vigneault has managed a lack of true training camp,
bad start, tough injuries, public contract disputes, and an average home record
to secure the second seed in the Metropolitan Division and home ice advantage. “AV”
coaches with the playoffs in mind. He doesn’t allow players to get too low or
too high during the regular season, with the expectation that they continue
that mindset into the postseason. It worked in Vancouver (despite falling just
short of a Stanley Cup Championship) and has shown well in New York. At the
same time, you often wish a little more emotion was shown by the demure
bench-man. But that just isn’t AV’s way, so fans have to trust that there is a
method to his lack of madness. One clear advantage here is experience. In 11
NHL seasons as full-time head coach, Vigneault has only missed the playoffs
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