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2017 Stanley Cup Playoff Preview: New York Rangers vs. Ottawa Senators

USATSI_10022656_154158418_lowresThe Ottawa Senators will meet the New York Rangers in the second round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs and it should be a doozy. Both teams have their star players and both teams will be playing the matchup game to get the most out of their opportunities.

And then there’s the trade at the centre of the series, with the Rangers swapping Derick Brassard to the Senators for Mika Zibanejad in July of 2016. Brassard has eight points in six playoff games thus far, while Zibanejad has four points in six playoff games. Both players lead their respective teams in scoring and both players are thriving in their new-ish environments.

The Senators met the Rangers in the 2012 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals and New York took the series in seven games, but things are a little different right now.

The Rangers and Senators both come up short when it comes to puck possession and shot prevention, for instance. The Blueshirts were outshot 3,823 to 3,520 in even strength situations in the regular season, while Ottawa likewise struggled in the category. That distinction may not make for wide open hockey in the second round, however, as the Senators and Rangers can play a physical game.

Offence

Brassard led the way in points for the Senators against the Boston Bruins and used his skating prowess to find space. He averaged 20:44 of ice time a game and registered 17 shots on goal. The 29-year-old will face off against the Rangers with eight points in his last five games and he’s learning to shoot the puck a little more, so containing him could be a chore.

Bobby Ryan came alive against Boston, too. He had seven points in six games, including four goals and three assists. He averaged 15:54 of ice time a game and found his extra gear just in time, which made him a constant threat. Pairing him with Brassard was a smart move for the Senators.

27-year-old centre Kyle Turris turned up for two points against the Bruins, including a goal and an assist. He averaged over 19 and a half minutes of ice time a game and the Senators would like to see more production from him. Mike Hoffman had three points in six games against Boston and averaged 20:51 of ice time, so he could be a factor against the Rangers as well.

Zibanejad led the Rangers in points against the Montreal Canadiens, with a goal and three assists in six games. He averaged 16:25 of ice time a game and had 13 shots on goal. The 24-year-old plays with two-way ability and is an integral part of the complete team game for New York.

Mats Zuccarello led the way in goals for the Rangers with three six games against the Habs. He averaged 20:49 of ice time a game and had a dozen shots on goal. The 29-year-old is one of the best passers on the team and he has creativity to boot. He’ll also give New York a boost on the power play.

Rick Nash had three points against the Canadiens, including two goals and one assist. He averaged 17:51 of ice time and had 23 shots on goal. Jesper Fast was also a factor on the wing for the Rangers. He had three points and averaged 14:55 against Montreal, plus he registered 24 hits and played an awful lot of shorthanded hockey.

Defence

Erik Karlsson continues to lead the way for the Senators. The 26-year-old defenceman had six assists in the first round and was everywhere, averaging over a half hour of ice time a game. Unfortunately, Karlsson has been playing with two hairline fractures in his left heel and ice time could be an issue if the series goes long.

Dion Phaneuf averaged 25:42 of ice time against the Bruins and had three points, including a goal and two assists. The 32-year-old packs a punch from the point and he can break a game wide open with a big hit. He remains a leader on and off the ice for Ottawa.

23-year-old Cody Ceci has great size for an NHL defenceman and put in 25:25 of ice time a game in the first round. He came up with seven shots on goal, but he didn’t collect a point. Marc Methot averaged 20:47 of ice time a game and had just two shots on goal. He wasn’t an offensive threat, but he plays a sound stay-at-home game.

The Rangers have built a punishing defensive core that leads all playoff team in hits. They’re also second in blocked shots to the Sharks. Ryan McDonagh typically leads the charge with his responsible shutdown play. He clocked 26:25 of ice time a game against Montreal and has two points in his last three games. He can help set up the Rangers’ dump-and-chase attack.

28-year-old Brendan Smith had an assist in six games against the Canadiens and averaged 20:29 of ice time a game. He can rush the puck and play with an edge, which makes him a versatile element on the Rangers’ blueline. Smith won’t score with any great consistency, but he can push an attack.

Rookie Brady Skjei came out of the first round with two goals and nine shots on target. He averaged 18:54 of ice time a game and could be a big part of any second round success. He can play plenty of minutes and has the size to push the Senators around. Nick Holden averaged 19:31 of ice time a game against Montreal and had an assist in five games, with 11 shots on goal.

Goaltending

Senators goalie Craig Anderson has been riding a wave of emotion in the playoffs and that’ll continue against the Rangers. He allowed just 13 Bruins goals in the first round and posted a shutout to go with a 1.94 goals against average and a .921 save percentage. Anderson reads the play as well as any other NHL goalie and he doesn’t give up many easy rebounds.

Mike Condon is the backup. He didn’t play against Boston, but he was sturdy in the backup role in the regular season and will be ready if he’s called on against the Rangers. The 26-year-old is a resilient netminder.

Henrik Lundqvist is one of the most consistent playoff goalies in the league. He was back at it against the Habs after a disappointing regular season, playing a patient style that allowed just 11 goals against in six games. He posted a 1.70 goals against average and a .947 save percentage. His half-butterfly style keeps him in position longer than other goalies, but his glove doesn’t close easily and can present rebound chances for the Senators.

Antti Raanta didn’t see any playoff action against the Canadiens, but he did go 16-8-2 in the regular season with a .922 save percentage and a 2.26 goals against average. He’s a mobile and prepared goalie, which makes him a capable backup for Lundqvist.

Who Will Win

This series, like most others, could come down to goaltending. Both teams allow a lot of shots and both teams like to play physical hockey. That could make for a lot of chances, but it also suggests a bruising style that opens up a lot of blocked shots and penalty minutes.

The Rangers are a patient hockey team and they know what they must do against Ottawa’s forecheck. But the Senators have persevered through an awful lot down the stretch and those intangibles can make a big difference.

My pick: Rangers in seven.

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