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Thursday, April 24, 2008

2nd Round Preview: Penguins vs. Rangers

The Penguins/Rangers series could easily be mistaken for the Stanley Cup Finals as some would argue that these are the best two teams remaining in the NHL Playoffs. This series provides skill, physical play and superstar mystique which is sure to make it a hit with hardcore and casual fans alike.

Why the Penguins will win:

This is a team that is deep up front. All three of their forward lines can contribute offense at any time and, in fact, their fourth line was terrific in the first round versus the Senators. Obviously, the Pens rely on Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin to lead the way and, well, that is certainly not a bad thing. Nonetheless, the Penguins will need their defense and goaltending to be extremely sharp if they expect to knockoff the Broadway Blueshirts.

Pittsburgh’s netminding was very solid in the opening round. Marc-Andre Fleury was on his game from the outset and was one of the main reasons for the series sweep. Fleury needs to maintain his confidence versus the high-powered Rangers and limit any weak goals—which are killer in the playoffs. Fleury’s success will also be based largely on the play of the Penguins’ defense corps. The fact of the matter is this defense corps has its strong points but is nothing to write home about. Sergei Gonchar is a great puck-mover and has played a better defensive game this season but is still open to a defensive breakdown. Additionally, Ryan Whitney has not been the player he was last season and has even seen some time on the wing. The Penguins’ trade for Hal Gill at the trade deadline has served them well and it should sure help this series as Gill has always seems to play well against Jaromir Jagr. The rest of the Penguins defense of Letang, Scuderi and Orpik provide a mix of size and skill but this is a one through six defense that is not to be mistaken with the Anaheim Ducks.

Why the Rangers will win:

The Rangers will win this series if they continue to stay disciplined and stick to their system which they have played all season long. Some may think with their three solid scoring lines that the Rangers like to play fire-wagon hockey, but that is really not the case. This team thrives on other team’s mistakes and converting them into odd-man chances the other way.

If the Rangers are going to take this series, they will need scoring from all three scoring lines because the Penguins can come at you with offense from all over their roster. If Chris Drury takes as long to get going in this series as he did versus the Devils, I have my concerns. However, I do not expect that to be the case.

Also, the Blueshirts have a big advantage in between the pipes as Henrik Lundqvist is a Vezina Trophy candidate who has also captured Olympic gold. In my opinion, this is where the Rangers hold the biggest advantage over the Penguins. Lundqvist has been terrific since the latter part of the season and seems to be on quite a role. The fact is, he won’t make many mistakes; so the Penguins won’t be getting any breaks like they did versus the lowly Senators.

Who will win:

Both these teams have about equal talent level infused throughout their rosters. Thus, I believe the determining factor is that the Rangers hold the advantage in the experience column. Their core players like Scott Gomez, Chris Drury, Jaromir Jagr and Brendan Shanahan have all won Stanley Cups. Taking that into account, I think the Rangers take this series.

Prediction: Rangers in 6.

Ballhype: hype it up!

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