From The Writer’s Desk
1) Who has been the Rangers unsung hero so far?
Zak Chiger (@ZakFTNYR): It’s not one player for me, it’s two: Jesper Fast and Oscar Lindberg. Fast has been an unsung hero his whole career on Broadway, doing the dirty work that doesn’t go in the box score and making the “hustle plays”. Lindberg, on the other hand, has anchored the fourth line for most of the season and has been a workhorse. He is always responsible in his own end and doesn’t need to be on the scoresheet to have a noticeable impact. If more players played like these two guys, the team would be just that much better.
Christopher Aurigemma (@icehole25): Rick Nash. He’s been great on both sides of the puck all series. He’s been phenomenal defensively, had the game winner in game four, and the primary assist on Skjei’s goal in game 5. He’s been aggressive taking the puck to the net every game and is playing like the star he was in Columbus.
Michael Kaplan (@OfficialKappy): There are so many guys to choose from as the “unsung hero” thus far. Brendan Smith has been an absolute steal and brought a ton of grit to the blue line, that I think McDonagh, Girardi, and Staal have all fed off of. And of course, there’s Brady Skjei. But I’m going to go unconventional here and split it between Buchnevich and Alain Vigneault… what?!. I’ve said all year, this team is best when Grabner is on the 4th line. So after Game 3, when everyone was morbid and most counted the Rangers done, AV did two things I don’t think get enough credit. The first was inserting Buchnevich into the lineup; which gave him the ability to push Grabner back to the 4th line, and can now roll 4 offensive forechecking lines. Grabner makes the 4th line able to skate with any line in the league.
Now back to AV, he adjusted. One major mistake the Rangers made in Game 2, was with a 2-1 lead they ran a simple 1-1-3 forecheck for the last 10-12 minutes of the 3rd, which is the equivalent of a prevent defense. Sitting back on their heels, it lulled them to sleep. And when Montreal tied it up, they weren’t able to turn the switch back on. Fast forward to Game 4, and with a lead in the 3rd period, AV employed six, maybe seven different forechecks on Montreal; which is pretty darn remarkable coaching, coordinating all of that on the fly. It confused Montreal so much that they could never truly crack what forecheck was being thrown at them.
Jackson Heil (@JacksonHeil): I wouldn’t necessarily call this unsung, but Brady Skjei was sensational in round one. Throughout the series, Skjei was the Blueshirts’ most dominant defenseman. He used his skating ability to dominate in his own zone, lead the breakout, and join the rush in a fluid fashion. Sustaining his level of play will be vital if the Rangers have any shot at going to the Stanley Cup Final.
2) Who has been the best player not named Henrik Lundqvist? Why?
Russell Hartman (@russellhartman1): Rick Nash by a long shot. This Nash we are seeing looks like Nash from his Columbus days. He is using his body to get to the net and create prime scoring chances for his team. Brady Skjei’s goal in game five was primarily scored because of the effort to get to the net by Nash. He was our best forward in round one. He plays in all situations which helps the team that much more. A big reason we won that series was because of his efforts to establish his dominance on the ice.
Michael Kaplan (@OfficialKappy): The easy answer and probably the one I would go with is absolutely Rick Nash, he’s been a 200-foot player all playoffs and was highly engaged. It will be really interesting how he does driving the net from the left side with Phaneuf and Methot on the same side this round. A highly honorable mention here is Ryan McDonagh. 2 years ago when the Blackhawks won, everyone was talking about how dominant Duncan Keith was with and without the puck through the playoffs serving as the team’s backbone. So far, Ryan McDonagh has elevated his play to a Duncan Keith-like level.
Jackson Heil (@JacksonHeil): This is an easy one. Rick Nash was by far the best player every time he stepped on the ice. He changed the way he’s played in the offensive zone in the playoffs by consistently driving to the net and creating chances for himself and his teammates. He’s essentially been a one-man zone entry, as he constantly maneuvered through the neutral zone with speed. Oh, and he’s dynamite on the penalty kill as well. The narrative that he isn’t a playoff performer has been washed away.
3) On the other end of the spectrum, who has been the most disappointing? Why? Who needs to give more going forward in order for the Rangers to be successful in these playoffs?
Zak Chiger (@ZakFTNYR): For me, it’s gotta be JT Miller. After a career regular season, in which he put up 56 points, he was virtually invisible against the Canadiens. He will need to step up his game as the Rangers move forward. Who needs to step it up? Miller’s centerman Kevin Hayes. The 2014 Hobey Baker finalist also enjoyed a successful regular season, but like Miller has not been playing at that level everyone expects. He has shown that he’s got the skill level to be a top playmaker. Now it’s time for him to show it.
Christina Phelan (@SinfullySoft): J.T. Miller has certainly been disappointing, but so have Kevin Hayes and Chris Kreider. We really need our guys to step up and give the team momentum in these games. And while Kreider showed up in Game 6, I didn’t see much of him in the prior games. They all have the skill, now they just have got to show up to play.
Michael Kaplan (@OfficialKappy): JT Miller has gotten a lot of flack and it’s not unwarranted, so has Kreider. I haven’t been as low on JT Miller; I feel he’s made some good plays and he can turn it on because he hasn’t been terrible. But the two players I want to see more out of, and I think they’re aware of it, are Chris Kreider and Derek Stepan. We’re deep at center, so it’s been able to disguise the lack of production from Stepan, but he really needs to be our best center, playing all 200-feet. He hasn’t been up to his standard in the offensive zone yet these playoffs, in my mind. Kreider, it’s been said and said and I think we’ll see a different side of him versus Ottawa, but he reminds me of Shaq working on his 3 pointers, getting away from what makes him so effective. I think the coaching staff has been in his ear and the leadership of the team (where he’s no longer a young guy on the team, nor a vet, he’s a tweener) will give him the right guidance. He knows what he needs to do to be effective; play north-south hockey and be disruptive, especially as the first man in on the dump-ins, as the Rangers try to get past the Sens 1-3-1 neutral zone forecheck. His speed and size are going to be a difference maker chasing the puck down in the corners, and working it into cycling the puck. This would be the perfect time to get him back into his most effective style of play.
4) What was the most important moment or lineup decision that turned the Rangers fortunes around against Montreal?
Russell Hartman (@russellhartman1): Bringing back Pavel Buchnevich into the lineup and putting the “KZB” line back together was a big moment changer in the series. The Rangers won three straight games after that. Buchnevich is a phenomenal player and is only beginning to scratch the surface of the kind of game-changing player he can he. The “KZB” line is big, skilled and drives possession. It’s not out of the question to say that that line has the potential to be the Rangers best for years to come.
Christopher Aurigemma (@icehole25): The most important moment was Zibanejad’s OT goal. It was the Rangers most dominant period of hockey in the series, and they had to get the reward of a goal after an effort like that.
Christina Phelan (@SinfullySoft): Putting Pavel Buchnevich into the lineup in Game 4. It changed the style of play, in my opinion. His puck handling is stellar and he’s not easily taken off of it. He has made some mistakes, but he’s still a rookie and has really provided more scoring depth up front.
5) Do the Rangers beat Ottawa and how many games will the series last?
Jackson Heil (@JacksonHeil): This series will be tighter than Rangers fans expect it to be. Erik Karlsson and Guy Boucher’s neutral zone trap will cause the Blueshirts problems at times. That said, this Ottawa team is very beatable if the Rangers are patient and utilize their speed correctly. If Henrik Lundqvist continues to be, well, Henrik Lundqvist, I see the Rangers ending this thing in six.
Christina Phelan (@SinfullySoft): The Rangers will come out on top, but it will take six games. Ottawa has some spunk with Karlsson and Big Game Brass (this one makes me cry). The Blueshirts will persevere though, and head to the ECF.
6) What’s your personal favorite moment from round one?
Russell Hartman (@russellhartman1): I would have to say the Mika Zibanejad overtime winner in game five at the Bell Centre. Zibanejad needed that goal and it was one of the biggest, if not the biggest, he has scored in his career. The raw emotion from Zibanejad and his teammates, and the dejected Habs leaving the ice made for a great scene at the end of game five, and the Rangers would ride that momentum to the series clincher in game six.
Zak Chiger (@ZakFTNYR): Henrik’s glove save on Shea Weber in the second period of game six. Weber, as we all know, can bring the heat with his slapshot at 108 MPH. Weber hit the post in game four on a point shot that could have changed the series. That game would’ve gone to OT, and the Rangers could’ve been down 3-1 heading into game five. For Henrik to be able to find that blast and snare it out of the air, I knew the King was locked and loaded for the Canadiens’ push at the end of the game.
Christopher Aurigemma (@icehole25): Derek Stepan’s empty net goal. The team played a hard fought series and were able to exhale and enjoy their round one elimination of the Canadiens. Hank’s exuberance was there for all to see when that puck skittered all the way down and in.