Pittsburgh Penguins vs. New York Rangers - 5/2/14
New York Rangers (45-31-6) at Pittsburgh Penguins (51-24-7)
NHL Hockey: Friday, May 2, 2014 at 7:00 pm (Consol Energy Centre)
The Line: Pittsburgh Penguins -137 / New York Rangers +124 --- Over/Under: 5 See the Latest Odds
Playing their third game in four nights the New York Rangers will look to steal Game 1 of their Metropolitan Divisional Final series with the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday night. The schedule makers didn't do New York any favors as the Rangers played on Sunday at home before a back-to-back set on Tuesday and Wednesday in Games 6 and 7. Now the Rangers will have to open this series with just one day of rest in between and they'll have to play Sunday and Monday back-to-back as well. It's a tall order for a club that barely survive their first round match up with the Philadelphia Flyers. The Rangers were in a stalemate after one period of play but in the second period they took control. Out shooting the Flyers 18-5 in the middle frame, New York got goals from Dan Carcillo and Benoit Pouliot to take a 2-0 lead they would not relinquish. Henrik Lundqvist was solid but had to be even better after the Flyers got a surge in the third period. New York would hold on for the 2-1 win and now will take on Pennsylvania's other team. This series might not seem like a great match up for New York given their recent history against the Penguins but over the length of seven games it might be better than playing Philadelphia. The Rangers thrive on being able to roll four lines and we saw that again on Wednesday night with Carcillo scoring a huge goal. There's no question that Pittsburgh has the better high end offensive talent in this series but the Rangers have better depth. When you compare a fourth line of Carcillo-Dominic Moore-Brian Boyle to Tanner Glass-Joe Vitale-Craig Adams, New York takes it in a landslide. If the Rangers can find a way to stay out of the penalty box, or at least really perform well on the penalty kill, they've got a great chance to have some success in this series. Pittsburgh will be more willing to play a finesse game that the Rangers like and there should be more possession and less of what we saw on Wednesday with the Flyers clogging things up along the boards. Lundqvist did just enough in that first round series but he has plenty more to give and he'll need to if the Rangers are going to advance.
For the Pittsburgh Penguins it's time to just play hockey. All of their fans in western Pennsylvania have had time to take a collective sigh of relief after Evgeni Malkin's big night in Game 6 helped get the Penguins passed the Columbus Blue Jackets in round one. Pittsburgh was a little lucky because they very easily could have been down 2-0 heading back to Columbus for Game 3. Instead they found a way to rally in the first game of the series and despite some more playoff meltdowns from Marc-Andre Fleury along the way they managed to get through unscathed. Fleury again will be the key and if he falls apart and Lundqvist plays at an elite level these teams aren't far enough apart where the Penguins will be able to survive that. Pittsburgh is going to need to get a lot more from Sidney Crosby in the next round but Sid always seems to get up for playing at Madison Square Garden and against the Rangers. It was great to see Malkin break out of his slump as well and head coach Dan Bylsma has to be hoping that it's the start of a hot streak. Pittsburgh will face a formidable foe and they'll have their hands full with one of the better penalty killing teams in the league. Crosby and the Penguins always seem to get calls because of how skilled their forwards are, and if they can convert with the man advantage in this series that might just be the difference. New York had really improved their power play this season and they started off hot in the first four periods against the Flyers, but they really hit a rut the rest of the way. If Pittsburgh can get their power play clicking and hold the Rangers off the board with their penalty kill they should be in good shape in this series. If it comes down to five-on-five play we could easily see this one going the distance.
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The Rangers will be operating solely on adrenaline on Friday night with their third game in four nights, but the problem is with the way the schedule plays out they won't really ever have any time to catch their breath. If I were head coach Alain Vigneault I would urge my players to go all out in this one and try and steal Game 1 on the road. Falling down by two games isn't a death knell by any means but New York will really have a lot of confidence if they can find a way to win one of these first two on the road.