The New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins are no strangers in the NHL playoffs. This will be the eighth time they have squared off in the postseason and the first time since 2016. The Rangers went 3-1 against Pittsburgh during the regular season, winning the last three in a row, outscoring them 11-4. Both teams have battled it out since at least the middle of the season for second and third positions in the standings, with the Rangers finally landing in the second spot gaining the home advantage.
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When it comes to the goalie position, the Rangers have the advantage with Igor Shesterkin. He was in net for all four games against Pittsburgh and, in those games, posted a save percentage (SV%) of .960, a goals against average (GAA) of 1.01, and had one shutout. For the season, Shesterkin has posted a .935 SV% and a 2.07 GGA. His name has been one of those mentioned whenever someone is referring to the Hart and Vezina trophies. The Rangers will need for him to be at his best.
Tristan Jarry may not start the series for the Penguins due to injury, and he is listed as day-to-day. More than likely, Casey DeSmith will possibly start in Game 1. Smith didn’t have a great start to the season, but he’s performed better since stepping in for the injured Jarry. Overall this season, DeSmith has a .914 SV% and 2.79 GGA. Jarry will have to be in net for Pittsburg to have a chance. If he is still not healthy enough, other members of the Penguins will need to help out DeSmith.
The Penguins are fifth in the league with goals allowed at 2.71, but the Rangers are second with 2.49, which is not much of a difference. However, all it takes is one advantage to find a way to exploit your opponent. The Penguins have Kris Letang as their man, but he and the other defensemen will need to help make Smith’s life better in the net. The Rangers’ offense will be coming hard at the net, and Smith needs the help. The Penguins have John Marino and Marcus Pettersson to rely on, as well as Chad Ruhwedel and Mike Matheson.
The Rangers’ top pairing has the advantage over the Penguins, but the Penguins have more depth. However, what the Rangers may lack in “depth” they have Jacob Trouba, who plays a more physical game. Another defensive teammate K’Andre Miller has vastly improved over the season, being paired with Trouba. Patrik Nemeth is a so-so defenseman, but there’s always Justin Braun available to partner with Braden Schneider. Also, don’t forget about the pairing of Adam Fox and Ryan Lindgren.
Both defenses have their strengths and weaknesses. However, the way the defense for the Rangers play might give them the advantage over Pittsburgh.
It will be a battle between these teams if special teams come into play. The Rangers have the fourth-best power play in the NHL versus the Penguins’ penalty kill, which is third in the NHL. So there are evenly matched there when looking at the stats. However, the Rangers have Chris Kreider, king of the power play goals this season, plus Shesterkin in net. Which has made a difference this season for the Rangers and gives them a slight advantage over the Penguins
If we look at the opposite, the Rangers’ penalty kill is seventh in the league, and Pittsburgh’s power play is 19th. There’s a considerable discrepancy there, with the advantage going to the Rangers. While the Penguins typically rely on speed, the Rangers heavily rely on their first power play team, which Kreider usually is on.
The Penguins will need to find a way to stifle the Rangers’ first power play team because the second one isn’t as effective. Also, not taking any penalties works as well.
The Penguins have Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jake Guentzel, and Bryan Rust, who are some of the mainstays of the Penguins’ offense. In addition, they added Rickard Rakell at the trade deadline, and he’s been doing well with 13 points in 19 games since coming to Pittsburgh. He appeared to be trending upward while the rest of the team showed a slight decline. Wach of the Penguins’ lines will have to keep the Rangers’ top two lines in check.
While the Penguins have a slight edge in offense with their stars, don’t discount the offense of the Rangers. Their second line has Artemi Panarin, arguably their best player. He pairs well with Strome, and after the trade deadline Andrew Copp fit in quite well with them. On the first line, the dynamic duo of Kreider and Mika Zibanejad can’t be denied. Despite the youth for the Rangers, the question remains on how it will compare with the depth the Penguins have in their bottom six.
Pittsburgh will need Crosby and Malkin to be at their best and lead the way for the rest of the team. You never want to bet against Crosby because, in n 69 games, he had 84 points, which is a 100-point pace. Not bad for an old guy. However, keep in mind that as the top players go, so does the rest of the team. Crosby and Malkin will need to push past the level they are at now; they have the skill and experience to give Pittsburgh the advantage.
Copp and Frank Vatrano have been doing well since coming to the Rangers at the trade deadline. However, their scoring will taper off, so it might be up to someone like Alexis Lafreniere, who will be a game-changer for New York. He looked better towards the end of the season, scoring his 19th goal in the last game against the Washington Capitals. Anything can happen if he gets at least one goal early in the series, followed by a few assists.
Mike Sullivan, the Penguins coach, has a vast amount of playoff experience under his belt. Six seasons and two Stanley Cups, to be exact. So he knows what to expect from the players, most of whom have been with him through the playoffs. This gives them an advantage because they all have a better understanding of what’s at stake.
Gerard Gallant has playoff experience, even making to the Finals with the Vegas Golden Knights in the 2017-18 season. However, he has never won the cup. Nevertheless, he knows what it takes for the long journey to the end. Despite winning three of their regular-season meetings, Gallant will need to work with the veterans on the team to help those without playoff experience be successful.
If you are looking at the past to predict the winner of this outcome, then it would not look good for the Rangers. They are 2-5 against Pittsburgh in the postseason. However, keep in mind this time that the Rangers have a different team than we have seen in the past. Pittsburgh is an older team and will have to ensure that they don’t let the Rangers take advantage of that.
Series Prediction: New York 4-2
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