What an exhilarating first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs!
Twenty-eight of the 42 games (67%) were decided by one goal. Twenty-seven game-winning goals were scored in the third period or overtime. Eighteen overtime games, a new first round record (breaking the previous mark of 17, set in 2013). And there are still three more rounds to go!
The Rangers are busy preparing for their Eastern Conference Second Round matchup with the Ottawa Senators following their 4-2 series win over the Montreal Canadiens. For the first time since 1937, the Blueshirts will face teams north of the border in each of the first two rounds of the postseason.
After calling all six Rangers-Habs matches, as well as the last five games of the Senators’ four games to two victory over the Bruins, here are some of my thoughts as we get set for the second all-time Rangers-Sens playoff series:
I voted for Henrik Lundqvist as the Rangers’ team MVP this season (Ryan McDonagh received my second place vote, Mats Zuccarello third). I was in the minority, as McDonagh took home the hardware for the second time in the past four seasons. Although Lundqvist did not have his best regular season, where would the Blueshirts be without him? I was vindicated during the first round series with Montreal. The King was at his best. It was a throwback performance; reminiscent of some of his great series in past springs.
The Rangers raised their level of play tremendously in five of the six games against Montreal. They took the body, stood up for each other (three fights in the series; only 17 during the regular season), and received huge saves from Lundqvist at opportune times. Despite only seven combined points from their top five regular season scorers, the Rangers prevailed thanks to key goals from unlikely sources.
Tanner Glass scored the first goal in Game 1 to quiet the Montreal crowd after the Canadiens outshot the Rangers 8-2 to start the game. Jesper Fast scored the Rangers’ first goal in Games 4 and 5, both victories. Brady Skjei tied the pivotal Game 5 at 2-2 late in the second period – his second goal of the series. And then there were the huge goals which turned the tide in Games 5 and 6: Mika Zibanejad in overtime in Game 5, and the two second period goals from Mats Zuccarello in Game 6, including the series-clinching tally.
Meanwhile, the Ottawa Senators won a playoff series for only the second time in the last 10 seasons – over an injury-riddled Bruins squad. The home team won only one of the six games in the series (Senators in Game 2). All six games were decided by one goal. Four needed overtime, including a double-OT thriller in Game 5.
Goaltender Craig Anderson allowed only 13 goals in six games, including a Game 4 shutout. Former Ranger Derick Brassard led the Sens with eight points, including an assist on the overtime winner scored by Clarke MacArthur in the series clincher. Bobby Ryan scored four goals in the series, including two game-winners (one in overtime). Defenseman Erik Karlsson has the ability to take over a game by himself. The two-time Norris Trophy winner finished with six assists in the series, including some of the most dazzling passes I have seen all season.
If the excitement during the second round of the playoffs comes close to what we just witnessed over the last two weeks, hockey fans are in for a treat.