Playoff time. The most exciting time of the year if you’re a hockey fan, player, coach or broadcaster.
Postseason hockey has become a rite of spring for the New York Rangers and The Garden Faithful. As my broadcast partner Dave Maloney so often points out, it is NOT easy to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. While Alain Vigneault and select Blueshirt players met with the media yesterday to chat about their upcoming first-round series against Montreal, 14 of 30 NHL teams were cleaning out their lockers.
On the other hand, four of the five bottom teams in the league standings in 2015-16 (Calgary, Columbus, Edmonton, Toronto) will be playing for Lord Stanley’s Cup beginning tomorrow. Which makes the Rangers’ current streak of seven consecutive trips to the postseason (and 11 of 12) even more remarkable.
Consider yourselves fortunate, Blueshirt fans! You’ve been treated to more postseason games since the 2011-12 season than the followers of any other franchise in the National Hockey League. The Rangers have played 81(!) playoff games during that period, more than every other club. Only Chicago (78), Los Angeles (69) and Pittsburgh (63) have played more than 50.
THE STARTING GOALTENDERS
Henrik Lundqvist and Carey Price have met on the biggest stage before. They were between the pipes for their respective countries in the gold medal game in Sochi in February 2014, a match won by Canada 3-0. In the 2014 Eastern Conference Final against the Rangers, Price was knocked out of Game 1 after two periods and did not return for the remainder of the series.
In the regular season, Price has won eight consecutive starts (and 11 of the last 12) against the Rangers. On home ice, Price is 10-1-1 in 13 regular season starts against the Blueshirts, including an incredible six shutouts in his last nine starts.
Lundqvist played some of his best hockey in Games 1 and 2 of the 2014 ECF in Montreal, allowing just three goals in the two games, both victories. The King will make his 116th consecutive postseason start in Game 1 tomorrow night (coverage starts at 6 PM on MSG Network).
“It will be a tremendous goaltending matchup,” said Stepan. If he (Price) can see it (the puck), he can save it and sometimes even if he can’t see it, he saves it. They (Lundqvist and Price) and two of the best goaltenders in the world.”
THE HEAD COACHES
Alain Vigneault and Claude Julien know each other very well. They were teammates – and often defense partners – with the St. Louis Blues’ top affiliate, the Salt Lake Golden Eagles, during the 1981-82 and 1982-83 seasons before Julien was shipped to Quebec (with Gord Donnelly) as compensation for the Blues signing of head coach Jacques Demers in the summer of 1983.
AV and Julien matched wits during the 2011 Stanley Cup Final, with Julien’s Boston Bruins edging Vigneault’s Vancouver Canucks in seven games.
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for Claude,” Vigneault said on Monday. “He owes me one.”
Ryan McDonagh and Max Pacioretty will always be linked together in the history books of the bleu, blanc et rouge. McDonagh (12th overall) and Pacioretty (22nd overall) were both selected in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft by the Canadiens in 2007. Oh, by the way, with their second round pick (43rd overall), the Habs chose P.K. Subban.
Pacioretty was a huge fan of the Rangers while growing up in suburban Connecticut. He has often said that he idolized Mark Messier as a young fan of the Blueshirts fan during the 1994 Stanley Cup run. In a 2014 article in the New York Times, it was written that the current Canadiens captain wore numbers 16 and 93 as a youth because Mike York and Petr Nedved were among his favorite players.
So many storylines. I can’t wait for the puck to drop tomorrow night in one of the iconic cities and arenas in the entire NHL. Join us for the radio call on ESPN 98.7 FM!