Series Preview: Rangers-Penguins

The Rangers are IN the playoffs — and, really, that’s all that matters.

For the moment.

You make the playoffs and then — history has amply demonstrated — anything can happen; and I don’t mean maybe either.

How about the 1979 Rangers, coached by Freddie (The Fog) Shero? The underdog Seventh Avenue Skaters ousted one of the best Islanders teams of all-time in six games. John Davidson’s crisp goaltending and Anders Hedberg’s accurate stick helped turn that series to the City Boys favor.

That was then, but this is now, so let’s check out the chances of the Rangers against their first-round foe, the Pittsburgh Penguins:

GOALTENDING:
Henrik Lundqvist’s Cup quest continues as the hour-glass keeps pouring against King H. No question he’s still in mint condition and has been the franchise bedrock for most of the season. Netminding is not an issue; with Antti Raanta as an effective back-up.

DEFENSE:
In any of the three previous seasons, the blueline corps never would have been an issue. And — on paper — it should not be a cause for concern this term. But facts on the ice have told a different story.

New York Rangers vs Pittsburgh Penguins

Some analytics savants have pointed at Dan Girardi as a less effective back-liner than in previous seasons and it is conceivable that the shot-blocking demanded by ex-coach John Tortorella may have worn down this redoubtable warrior. Still, there’s plenty of experience in Marc Staal, Keith Yandle and Kevin Klein, among others. Not to mention captain Ryan McDonagh if he returns from injury.

Dan Boyle and Dylan McIlrath round out the offensive and defensive fixtures, respectively, and could become meaningful factors as the series unfolds. McIlrath, in particular, has ripened into a tough, solid rookie.

OFFENSE:
The addition of Eric Staal at the trade deadline should be one of the most noteworthy moves of 2015-16 for the Rangers arsenal. At its best, the Blueshirts offense is as balanced as any in the league.

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Apart from goaltending, the spread of scorers borders on intimidating. Consider the fact that Chris Kreider and Derek Stepan have found their groove at the right time. Add to them, the weapons of Mats Zuccarello, Derick Brassard, J.T. Miller, Kevin Hayes, Jesper Fast — the Players’ Player — and Oscar Lindberg.

INTANGIBLES:
If the going gets nasty, the under-rated Tanner Glass is available along with two-fisted McIlrath.

ISSUES:
There are vital questions as to McDonagh’s return and in what condition. Also, whether Rick Nash and Eric Staal can produce big-time in the playoffs.

COACHING:
Alain Vigneault knows the score thanks to plenty of playoff experience. And, yes, he is capable of pressing the right buttons at the right time. A Cup finalist but never a Cup-winner, AV’s motivation is as strong as ever.

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