NEW YORK -- After a grueling, jam-packed schedule in Round 2, the Rangers won’t be nearly as concerned with fatigue as they ready for their second trip to the Eastern Conference finals in three years.
Assuming their third-round set does not begin until Saturday, the Blueshirts will have three full days to relish their dramatic and historic upset against the Pittsburgh Penguins, in which they rallied from a 3-1 series deficit to advance.
Although goaltender Henrik Lundqvist said after his stellar 35-save effort in the team’s 2-1 win over the Pens on Tuesday that he planned to take a full day off from hockey Wednesday, that may be a wish difficult to fulfill. That’s because the Rangers are eagerly awaiting their third-round opponent, who will be determined tonight in Game 7 of the chippy, hotly contested series between the Boston Bruins and the Montreal Canadiens.
Taking just a surface-level look at the two potential foes, it stands to reason the Rangers may have a better shot against the Habs. However, the Rangers have had trouble with the Canadiens, particularly when playing in Montreal. In fact, Rangers netminder Cam Talbot started the Blueshirts’ last two games at the Bell Centre because regular starter Lundqvist has struggled so badly in the arena.
Similar to the Rangers, the Habs utilize their skill and speed to stun teams into submission. They boast a terrific netminder in Carey Price and have the most dynamic defenseman in the game in P.K. Subban, who has arguably been the best player during the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs.
Meanwhile, the Bruins also pose a very difficult matchup against the Rangers, as was evident in the two clubs’ meeting in the second round of the playoffs last spring. The Rangers were completely outdone by the Bruins' size, toughness, skill and depth. Boston’s fourth line ran roughshod over New York as the Bruins bounced the Rangers in five games.
This is a different Rangers squad, however, one that boasts the same type of balance that makes the Bruins so dangerous. Under new coach Alain Vigneault, the Rangers have consistently rolled four lines and stuck to a sound structure as they dispatched both the Philadelphia Flyers and the Penguins in the first two rounds.
Regardless of which team wins Wednesday night, it may serve as an advantage for the Rangers that the two clubs have fought tooth and nail for every inch of the ice. One has to wonder how much of a toll it will take on the team that advances, and how much gas is left in the tank when the conference finals begin, presumably this weekend.
The last time the Rangers made it this far in the playoffs was two seasons ago, when they clashed with the New Jersey Devils in 2012. Many of the same key players remain from that memorable series, which could be a benefit to the team moving forward.
“I think you know [how] hard it is to win the next round,” said defenseman Marc Staal after Tuesday’s emotional victory. “We came up short and you know how hard you worked to get to that point and you have to seize that opportunity when you’re there. You win two rounds and you’re halfway there. We have a lot of work cut out for that and you have to realize that.”
Veteran center Brad Richards, who lifted a Stanley Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004, knows the chance to make it there doesn’t come easy. He wants the team to enter the next round’s action with the type of confidence that the ultimate goal can be had.
“We can win. But first of all, we’ve got to win a game in the conference finals,” he said late Tuesday night. “This is a great situation and every team that’s going to be playing next week has a real shot at winning the Stanley Cup.”