At a glance: No rest for the weary, huh? Less than 48 hours after knocking off the Philadelphia Flyers in the seventh game of their Round 1 series, the New York Rangers are on to their next divisional opponent, the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Penguins boast two of the league’s most dynamic players in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, while the Blueshirts have derived their success from a well-balanced attack that is rooted in a four-line approach. The two teams clash in Pittsburgh for Game 1 with a jam-packed schedule ahead -– three games in four nights. No time to test the waters in this series. And remember, the Rangers won’t have the crowd at Madison Square Garden to fall back on for support. With Pittsburgh the top finisher in the Metropolitan Division, the Penguins enjoy home-ice advantage throughout the series.
Containing Crosby: Though Crosby finished with six assists in six games in the Penguins’ first-round set against the Blue Jackets, the Penguins’ superstar captain has yet to notch a goal in the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs. Moreover, No. 87 has gone 11 straight postseason games without scoring. We all saw Columbus’ Brandon Dubinsky give Crosby fits, which leads to the question: Who draws the task for the Rangers? Top defensive pairing Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi will be key to neutralizing Crosby’s line in this series. They fared well against Philly’s top line of Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek and Scott Hartnell in Round 1.
You do get the sense, however, that Crosby is on the verge of breaking out at any moment. In fact, that’s what happened with Malkin, who awoke to record a hat trick in the Penguins’ decisive Game 6 victory against the Blue Jackets on Monday.
Don't be shocked to see Penguins coach Dan Bylsma load up with Crosby and Malkin, either. Bylsma used the two star forwards together at times during the team's first-round series, a move that yielded positive results. Bylsma admitted Friday morning that he'd be more apt to use the tandem together with the team on the road, but will still look for key moments within the game to exploit certain match-ups and situations.
Fatigue Factor: The Rangers never make it easy on themselves, and their series against the Flyers was no different; they squandered three separate opportunities to build on a series lead before ultimately topping their division rivals in a winner-takes-all Game 7 at Madison Square Garden. Heading into what seems like an unreasonably compressed schedule, the Rangers are already battle-tested after playing three games in four nights. They are headed for another three-in-four set as well, though Rangers coach Alain Vigneault shrugged off any suggestion of fatigue: "I come from the West," Vigneault said in his pre-game press briefing. "The travel out here is pretty easy, so I'm not overly concerned."
Injury update: Though Bylsma declined to discuss his Game 1 lineup, Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik (undisclosed) did not participate in the team's morning skate Friday and is not expected to play. Neither is Rangers forward Chris Kreider, who has yet to return from a left hand injury sustained during the regular season.
Making history: The Rangers and Penguins are meeting for the first time since the Eastern Conference semifinals in 2008. Pittsburgh has the historical edge in the series, having won all four previous playoff series against the Blueshirts. Can New York make history this postseason?