Goaltending was the New York Rangers’ biggest asset in Round 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but will this continue against Ottawa?
What was perhaps the most surprising aspect of the New York Rangers’ Round 1 victory against the Montreal Canadiens was their ability to make adjustments.
If you have been a fan of this team for any amount of time, the fact that the Rangers were able to consistently make effective adjustments is very surprising.
Alain Vigneault‘s ability to adjust to his opponents hasn’t exactly been a strong point of his coaching.
However, Henrik Lundqvist‘s 1.75 goals against average and .947 save percentage has given AV the freedom to focus on the offense and transition game.
The defense has looked stronger, the offense more involved, and Hank has clearly turned back time.
Sure, it’s early, but the King of New York has poured a very strong foundation for this Rangers team in Round 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Will the Madison Square Garden faithful continue to witness this strong play against the Ottawa Senators in Round 2?
Craig Anderson may have other plans for the Rangers.
While it seems like a decade ago now, these two net minders have faced each other in playoffs once before.
The year was 2012, John Tortorella was still the coach, and the Ottawa fan base would chant “Alfie” whenever the clock ticked down to 11.
Ah, the good ole’ days.
The Rangers went on to defeat Ottawa in seven games and eventually lost to the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Adam Henrique anyone? Anyway…
Fast forward to present day, and Anderson’s 2017 playoffs stats are surprisingly similar to Hank’s.
Anderson has tallied a 1.94 goals against average and a .921 save percentage.
While Lundqvist has the edge with both of these numbers, the obvious (and most important) variance is the save percentage.
The Boston Bruins peppered Anderson with 165 shots in the first round.
Lundqvist? Yeah, he faced 206 shots ans still earned a higher save percentage. This difference cannot be overlooked.
As far as playoff experience is concerned, The King has the obvious advantage.
Lundqvist has advanced to the Eastern Conference Final twice, and the Final once. Anderson has only played in the second round twice and lost both of those times.
When discussing a goaltending match up, you need to acknowledge the defense. As Rangers fans have witnessed the past couple of seasons, a bad defensive play here or there can sink your ship, no matter how good a goalie is.
We previously discussed the defensive match up in detail, but the two factors to take a glance at are Ryan McDonagh and Erik Karlsson.
Captain verses captain, warrior verses warrior.
We learned over the weekend that Karlsson is playing with a broken foot, much like McDonagh did during the 2014 playoffs.
The difference, however, is that the fractures in Karlsson’s foot aren’t negatively impacting his game like they did to McDonagh.
Keep an eye on Karlsson’s skating against the speedy Rangers because his injury will be further tested.
Experience in invaluable in the playoffs, and Lundqvist maintains the advantage against Anderson as a result of his defense’s deep playoff experience.
The Rangers’ defensive core proved that they can defend Hank when their opponents have tried to invade the blue paint.
Despite all of the numbers, there is an x-factor which evens out the Lundqvist/Anderson match up a bit.
Anderson is playing for much more than his team this season.
You have probably heard by now that his wife, Nicholle Anderson, is battling cancer. Craig missed a portion of the regular season to be by her side throughout her treatment.
Rangers fans have witnessed how a team can rally around one of their own comrades who are experiencing serious adversity in their lives.
The 2014 New York Rangers probably wouldn’t have made it past the Pittsburgh Penguins if not for their ability to rally around Martin St. Louis, who lost his mother during the series.
There are also those questions which no one can answer, such as, will both goalies continue to play up to their potential?
For me, this is scariest, yet most important answer.
While we have witnessed greatness for Lundqvist recently, we have also seen the Kin falter when the playoffs become a drawn out affair.
Think back to that 2012 Eastern Conference Final against Devs when Hank was toast by the end of that series. Can he keep the current pace that he has set?
There is certainly something different about Hank’s demeanor. The shoulder shrugs are gone, as are his yelling fits which are usually aimed towards his defenseman. Lundqvist wants that shiny piece of silver, and he wants it bad.
Hank will ultimately prevail. I do think his game will level out a bit, but he will best Craig Anderson by the time the series comes to a close.
Advantage: Henrik Lundqvist.