Two teams powered by Swedish players meet in the first round of the NHL playoffs. The Rangers, top seed in the Eastern Conference, are lead by Swedish goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who’s been their team MVP for five straight years; Ottawa, seeded eighth in the East are captained by Daniel Alfredsson and have Norris Trophy candidate Erik Karlsson on their blue line. Karlsson led all NHL defensemen in points this year with 78.
New York Rangers
Goals: Marian Gaborik (41)
Points: Marian Gaborik (76)
Goaltending: Henrik Lundqvist (62 starts, 39 wins, eight shutouts, 1.97 GAA, .930 Save %)
Goals: Milan Michalek (35)
Points: Jason Spezza (84)
Goaltending: Craig Anderson (60 starts, 33 wins, three shutouts, 2.84 GAA, .914 Save %)
2011-12 Head-to-head Matchup: The Senators dominated the season series between these two, winning three of the four matchups while outscoring the Rangers 14-8.
Offense: The Senators had the fifth-ranked offense in the NHL during the 2011-12 season, notching 249 goals (2.96/game). Their offense was lead by center Jason Spezza (34 goals, 84 points), defenseman Erik Karlsson (19 goals, 78 points), and Milan Michalek (35 goals, 60 points). The Rangers, meanwhile, ranked 13th in the NHL with 226 goals per game (2.71/game). They were led by 40-goal scorer Marian Gaborik, as well as Brad Richard (25 goals, 66 points) and Ryan Callahan (29 goals, 54 points). It’s close, but the Rangers can’t match the Senator’s raw offensive ability (at least on paper).
Defense: The strength of Ottawa’s defensive corps is Erik Karlsson, who is known more for his offensive ability than his ability to actually play defense. As a whole, Ottawa allowed the seventh-highest goal total (240) in the NHL (the highest total of any playoff team this year), while allowing an average of 32 shots on goal per game, second worst in the NHL. The Rangers, on the other hand, had the sixth-best shots-allowed average (27.6/game), while allowing only 187 goals (third best in the NHL).
Advantage: New York
Goaltending: This one’s not even close. Craig Anderson is a solid, serviceable goaltender, and Ben Bishop (Anderson’s backup in Ottawa) has a bright future, but that tandem pales in comparison to the All-Star, Olympic Gold Medal winning, Vezina and Hart Trophy candidate Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers.
Advantage: New York Rangers
Special Teams: Ottawa has the better power play unit; the Senators ranked 11th in the NHL with a 18.6 conversion percentage, while the Rangers came in 23rd with a 15.7% conversion rate. That makes sense; Ottawa had a better offense than New York during the regular season as well, why wouldn’t they be better with the man advantage. Similarly, the Rangers were a better defensive team, and are a much better penalty-killing team than the Senators. New York’s penalty kill was the fifth-best in the NHL with an 86.2% kill rate, while Ottawa’s ranked 20th in the NHL with an 81.6% kill rate. This is a tough category to judge, but when it comes to what these two teams to better, the Rangers have the edge. Ottawa’s power play unit was only 11th in the NHL; but the Rangers’ strength, their penalty kill, was in the top five.
Advantage: New York
Prediction: While the Rangers are a better team on paper, and came in first in the Eastern Conference for a reason,Ottawa did beat them three out of four times during the regular season this year. This will likely be a close series, and the eighth seeded Senators will give New York all they can handle. Still, it’s tough to see a well-rested Lundqvist allowing the Rangers to go down in the first round, especially after all they accomplished during the regular season.
Forecast: New York in six.
By Arun Morace