The New York Rangers have bounced back from a dismal 2016 Playoff performance to overcome Original Six rival Montreal. The major theme of the series was goaltending (and invisible referees), as the two stars of the series were Henrik Lundqvist and Carey Price. Neither could make a mistake, or their team would lose whatever game it occurred, and they both gave their teams hope into the final minutes of Game 6. The Rangers completing their passes in the final three games is what swung the series, as they missed wide open nets multiple times when this showdown was just getting warmed up.
The Rangers best forward this series had to be Rick Nash. Even in defeat he was strong on both ends of the ice, and showing he could create chances through sheer will at times. The man they call “Big Dick Rick” throughout Rangerstown just could not be stopped, even with questionable stick maneuvers from Montreal’s top pairing. He gave me instant hope during the Game 1 MSG pre-game video package, where he talked about how much fun it is for his big Canadian-self to play in Montreal.
On defense a few players stepped up multiple games. Brendan Smith came out of his Red Wing shell in this series to show he’s what we all wanted Dylan McIlrath to be at the start of this year… a bad ass. Brady Skjei was doing things that no rookie Ranger has done since Brian Leetch, Dan Girardi was chucking Russians into the boards, and Marc Staal woke up by the final game of the series to bury Sean Avery wannabe Brendan Gallagher. Though, in the end, the Rangers’ Captain Ryan McDonagh was their top Defenseman.
Nick Holden was easily the New York Rangers’ worst D-man, and I thought they should have given his job to Kevin Klein, who got a one game try-out, but didn’t impress any of the coaching staff. I thought he showed some pep in his skates, as he was trying to create some offense by jumping up into the rush. I’ll blame the Game 2 loss on Holden until he makes my favorite number (22) look better, hopefully next series.
As far as Montreal goes, I already mentioned their main nuisance in Gallagher, but I’d also like to give Alexander Radulov a shout-out for mainly sketchy play. I bet he impressed Habs fans a lot more than Pacioretty, who was less of a factor than NBC Sports’ terrible announce team, and they only worked the final game (at least for my ears/eyes). Steve Ott’s ginger beard was pretty legit, as well.
The New York Rangers 3 Stars of Round 1
- * Henrik “Mother F’n” Lundqvist: I had a conversation with my old man the other day about how a “hot goalie can get you a Cup”. Well, King Henrik is HEATING UP!
- ** Rick Nash: I’ve heard many people cast shade upon the big forward, but I’ve honestly enjoyed his play as a Ranger since he got here. He’s basically the opposite of Carmelo Anthony, who the OTHER MSG team traded for, and who hasn’t had many NYK Playoff runs to compare. He scores, he back-checks, and he uses his size in every way possible. Did he score in Game 6? Nope, but his line had no problems getting the puck out of their own end, which is just as important in the territorial battle that is NHL Playoff Hockey.
- *** Mats Zuccarello: Smallest dude, biggest heart. It’s that simple. Pierre tried calling Gallagher a “character guy” during Game 6, but The MZA is the true epitome of that phrase. He’s undersized like Gallagher, but I’ve never gotten the thuggish vibe from him. He doesn’t slewfoot, or trip people when the other team isn’t looking, even if he’s getting on the opponents’ nerves. He had 3 clutch goals this series, even if one ended up not mattering, the other two counted in a SERIES CLINCHING way.
Tanner Glass: Scored the only goal in Game 1, and set the tone of the series, as he was flying around the ice hitting everything anytime he played the first three games. There’s a reason why the Rangers are leading the NHL Playoffs in hits, and it isn’t just the “French Math”, as Coach Alain Vigneault put it after Game 5. When it comes to Playoffs, Glass is a different player. I hope we get to see him cause some havoc in Round 2, even if it’s only part-time, which worked perfectly against Montreal.
Mika Zibanejad: That goal in Game 5, and just his reaction after scoring it, was a great moment in Rangers’ history.
Pavel Buchnevich: Came in for Glass, and played an entirely different way, which gave this team the offensive boost it needed to take control of the series. He waited for his moment to come off the bench, and he took hold with a death-grip.
Brendan Smith: I know I already mentioned all the D-Men, but I really became a huge Smith fan in a short period of time. This dude was hammering Habs, but best of all is he was taking everything they threw at him, and he just kept playing his game. He even dropped the gloves, which is an automatic GOLD STAR from this guy.
Jimmy Vesey: Speaking of guys who dropped the gloves! Vesey was someone who seemed to be playing at a higher level earlier than most of the players in this series.