New York Rangers vs Pittsburgh Penguins First Round Series Preview

new york rangers vs pittsburgh penguins
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The regular season has been wrapped up. We have moved on to the most exciting time of the NHL calendar; the Stanley Cup Playoffs. All year the Eastern Conference has proven to be hotly contested. The eight top teams were in a constant battle for the top spots and ultimately home ice. In the Metropolitan, the New York Rangers‘ fine end-of-season form saw them snag the rights to host the opening game of series one at Madison Square Garden, but the Pittsburgh Penguins’ late struggles resulted in the club descending down the rankings, resulting in a more favourable match-up being relinquished. Let’s have a look and see who will come out on top and the key factors which will decide this New York Rangers vs Pittsburgh Penguins match-up.

New York Rangers vs Pittsburgh Penguins First Round Preview

Goaltending

Pittsburgh and New York are currently polar opposites when it comes to goaltending. Igor Shesterkin has had a Vezina calibre season this year and has looked unstoppable between the pipes for the Blueshirts. The Russian was the league leader in goals-against average (2.07) and save percentage (.935). He also finished third in shutouts with an impressive six in 53 games played. If needed, the Rangers can also call upon their backup Alexandar Georgiev, who boasts a strong with a 2.92 GAA and .898 save percentage.

Whilst the Penguins’ All-Star netminder Tristan Jarry has performed superbly this season, he has suffered a slight slump post-trade deadline and is currently injured, meaning he will miss at least part of the series. Backup Casey DeSmith will be taking the reins as the starter but has never played in a playoff game at this level. One positive however is DeSmith has seen a recent spike in form, including a 52 save shutout win over Boston. Coach Mike Sullivan will be hoping the New Hampshire native comes into the series brimming with confidence, hoping to repay the faith general manager Ron Hextall showed by not acquiring a more experienced goaltender at the deadline.

Experience

When a team can count the likes of three-time Stanley Cup winners Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang among their ranks, that team can never be ruled out. Together, the trio has blossomed from young stars to future Hall of Famers and with Letang and Malkin pending UFAs this summer, it could be the last hurrah. The Rangers will know a group as ultra-competitive and driven they are will be desperate to add a fourth ring to their collection. Along with this elite trio, the Penguins are blessed with a talented supporting cast. The majority of which that cast has at least one Cup win. Playoff hockey is a different beast to the regular season and the likes of Jake Guentzel, Bryan Rust, Jeff Carter and Brian Dumoulin all bring valuable experience of how to manage the intensity of the individual games and the long slog to the final.

The Rangers however are a significantly younger team. While this could mean fresh legs, it could also mean a struggle to adapt. The main leadership group in New York of Mika Zibanejad, Artemi Panarin, Ryan Strome, Barclay Goodrow and Chris Kreider have seen some post-season action, in particular Kreider and Goodrow. However aside from this core group, plenty have never seen playoff action at the NHL level, particularly the team’s depth players. The hockey is due to become high intensity, with fewer penalties being called and a huge level of physicality. That could be a shock to the system to many of the squad. That’s something Pittsburgh does not have to worry about. With that said, the Penguins cannot wholly rely on this as the relatively inexperienced Islanders and Canadiens both dumped them out in the last two first rounds.

Regular Season Form

With the playoffs being so unpredictable, regular-season form can go out of the window – see last year’s Canadiens side for the perfect example. However, the Rangers and Penguins have had interesting seasons. We could have a series on our hands where this may come into play. The Pens had a spluttering start whilst Crosby recovered from a wrist injury. However, his return put fire in his teammate’s bellies. The team had a string of good results putting the Penguins firmly in the spot for home-ice advantage.

This was then lost, following some concerning post-deadline performances which had the Penguins flirting with the wild card spots. New York started with a relatively strong October but followed up with a mixed bag of results. Yet the Rangers rallied shortly after Christmas, with more promising results and have finished white-hot. Deadline day proved to be a cornerstone of their season end, with smart acquisitions filling important needs. This propelled the Blueshirts to finish second in the Metropolitan. There is the potential for that upswing to push them into at least the Second Round.

Prediction

Overall, the Penguins have needed to improve their play for some time now. Conversely, New York has some serious momentum on their side. The loss of Pittsburgh’s starter Jarry, along with top-six winger Jason Zucker, will not help morale nor the general quality on the ice and whilst the team does have a number of veterans with the mental capacity to overcome this, it is not clear if each player will be able to buy-in. The defence will likely decide this series and whilst the Rangers have not been exempt from blueline struggles, the Penguins have major concerns with the play of the aforementioned Dumoulin, John Marino and occasionally Marcus Pettersson. New York can also rely on superstar goalie Shesterkin to provide a strong last line. He has a 3-1-0 record against the Penguins including a shutout.

Predicted Winner – New York Rangers in 5 games

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