Eastern Conference Finals Preview

Richard Wolowicz

The Habs and Rags get set to battle to see who loses to the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup Final.

3) Montreal Canadiens (8-3) vs 2) New York Rangers (8-6)

Series Schedule

GM 1

5/17/2014

NYR @ MON

12PM CDT, NBC

GM 2

5/19/2014

NYR @ MON

7PM CDT, NBCSN

GM 3

5/22/2014

MON @ NYR

7PM CDT, NBCSN

GM 4

5/24/2014

MON @ NYR

7PM CDT, NBC

GM 5

5/26/2014

NYR @ MON

7PM CDT, NBCSN

GM 6

5/28/2014

MON @ NYR

7PM CDT, NBCSN

GM 7

5/30/2014

NYR @ MON

7PM CDT, NBCSN

Regular Season Results

Date

Tm

Opp

Result

4/12/2014

NYR

@

MTL

L 0-1 (OT)

11/16/2013

NYR

@

MTL

W 1-0

10/28/2013

NYR

MTL

L 0-2

Leading Playoff Scorers

MTL

NYR

P

PK Subban, 12

P

Brad Richards, 9

G

Thomas Vanek, 5

G

Richards, Carl Hagelin, Dereck Brassard, 4

A

Subban, 8

A

6 players tied with 5

Goalie Matchup

Carey Price (8-3, .926 save %, 2.15 GAA, 1 SO) vs Henrik Lundqvist (8-6, 1.99 GAA, .931 save %, 0 SO)

This is the exact opposite matchup most people expected for the Eastern Conference Finals.  Last week the Boston Bruins were up 3-2 on the Habs and the Rangers found themselves down 3-1 to the Pittsburgh Penguins, so I think it is fair to say this is an unlikely pairing.  Even though this isn't the matchup we expected, I think this will be a better series than a Boston/Pittsburgh rematch.  These two teams feature good depth, speed and fantastic goaltenders.

For the first time in these playoffs the Canadiens will enjoy home ice advantage, which is huge since they finished the regular season 18-6-1 and are 4-1 in the playoffs at the Bell Centre.  The biggest reason for Montreal's first appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals since 2010 is their offensive production.  They lead the league with a 3.27 goals per game average in the playoffs after finishing the regular season ranked 21st with just 2.62 goals per game.  The trade deadline acquisition of Thomas Vanek is paying off big time as he leads the Habs with five goals.  Max Pacioretty, who paced the Habs in the regular season with 39 goals, has been relatively quiet with just seven postseason points.  Fortunately for Montreal, they have been getting production from their bottom six with Rene Bourque, Daniel Briere and Dale Weise all chipping in with big goals in the first two rounds.  And just when you think you have their forwards covered, you have to be aware of the big slap shot coming from PK Subban on the blue line.

When the lockout ended nearly 18 months ago every fan of the blue shirts was upset that the Rangers did not buyout the contract of Brad Richards.  After the first two rounds of the 2014 playoffs, it is easy to assume that this was the greatest buyout that never happened.  Richards has found the offensive jump to his game that has been missing for quite awhile.  You would think Marty McFly made the DeLorean go 88 mph back to the spring of 2004 with the way Richards and Martin St. Louis have played through the first two rounds.  But, much like the Habs, the Rangers are getting production from their bottom six with goals from Mats Zucarello, Derek Brassard, and Benoit Pouliot.  Even guys like Dominic Moore and Daniel Carcillo are chipping in.

The Habs blue line begins with reigning Norris Trophy winner PK Subban who is an absolute joy to watch. Mike Weaver has been an underrated offseason pickup and has been solid during the postseason.  Much like Niklas Hjalmarsson, Weaver has yet to meet a shot he didn't want to block. As long they keep Douglas Murray off the ice, Montreal will be just fine on the back end.  They aren't the biggest defensive corps, but they have the speed to keep up with just about anyone.

The Rangers defense mirrors the Blackhawks in a way, whereas their second pairing gets the tougher assignments.  Marc Staal and Anton Stralman did a fantastic job of shutting down Sidney Crosby in the previous round.  The top pairing of Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi did not have a great series against the Penguins, but have the skating ability to hang with the speed of Montreal.

This will be a hard series to pick but one thing I can say with a lot of confidence is this will be a low scoring series.  With Henrik Lundqvist and Carey Price in the nets, I don't see too many 6-5 games happening.  This series will feature a rematch of the two goalies from the Gold Medal game in Sochi.  Price won the one game battle but a seven game series is a different beast.  Price had the best regular season of his career and was money when facing elimination against the Bruins, giving up just one goal on 56 shots in the final two games of the series.  Lundqvist struggled to start the year, but once he signed his contract extension, his season took off and so did the Rangers.  Hank is still one of the best goalies in the game and is itching to get to his first Stanley Cup Final.

I have been struggling with a prediction but in the end I think not having home advantage and playing back to back seven game series is too much for the Rangers to overcome.  Habs in seven.

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