Friday, April 18, 2008

Rangers advance to Eastern semis

For the second season in a row, the Rangers have advanced to the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. They did so by knocking off the Devils, who dispatched the Blueshirts from the playoffs in 2006.

The moment we all were waiting for, will Marty shake Avery's hand?

And the answer is no. He wouldn't even look his nemesis in the eye. Brodeur actually took all the bumps in stride. It was his teammates and coach Brent Sutter who did all the complaining. I guess he was just holding it all in, waiting for the handshake line to let the world know how he really feels.

To add insult to injury, Avery finally broke his self-imposed media silence.
“Everyone talks about how unclassy I am, but Fatso there just forgot to shake my hand, I guess.”

- Sean Avery

We all know how well it ended last year when Avery lipped off after New York beat Atlanta in four straight. If you need a reminder, Avery was ineffectual in the next round and the Rangers lost to a heart-breaking series to the Sabres.

I was surprised by how many pundits were picking New Jersey to win this series. New York owned Brodeur & Company all season long, going 7-0-1 and earning an important 15 of 16 possible points. In fact, the Devils' game 3 victory was their only win over Henrik Lundqvist all year. (Steven Valiquette was in net for the overtime loss in their final meeting of the regular season.)

The Rangers have been their own worst enemy this season, but when they commit to playing their best game all 60 minutes (or longer if necessary), they're a pretty sound club defensively with the offensive depth to wait for their chances. As much press as their crease-crashing has received, consistency was really the key to New York winning the opening round.

Now Tom Renney and his soldiers wait for Washington-Philadelphia series to conclude. If the Flyers finish off the Capitals, then the Rangers will face the Penguins. If the Caps some how perform a miracle and comeback from a 3-1 deficit, then the Blueshirts will take on the Canadiens.

While the Rangers won the season series against both the Habs and the Pens, Montreal is a different team than they were at the beginning of the season when New York had most of their success against them. Pittsburgh is a hard working team but not strong defensively and can be easily exposed, particularly if they're forced to open up. Scoring first and disciplined defensive zone coverage would be the keys to a Rangers-Penguins match up. Of the those two potentials second round opponents, I'd prefer New York to face Pittsburgh. So, go Flyers!

If Boston upsets Montreal, then New York would face off against the winner of the Philadelphia-Boston series. Doubtful the Rangers would start Flyer-killer Valiquette between the pipes if they draw Philly.

With a goal and two assists tonight, Jaromir Jagr moves into a four five-way tie for the lead in playoff scoring. The last and final trigger to renew Jagr's contract for next season (including the Caps' 50% subsidy) is if he wins the Conn Smythe trophy. Larry Brooks of the New York Post points out that he and two other writers who cover the Rangers beat are among the press who cast ballots for playoffs MVP. I don't think there's any rule that says the Smythe winner has to play in the finals. Hopefully they know their jobs are much easier with Jagr on Broadway.

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