The New York Rangers have overcome some serious hurdles through two rounds of playoff hockey. The fact that they’ve played a maximum of 14 postseason games in that span – including four games in which a loss would end their season – makes one wonder if they have enough left in the tank to beat the Montreal Canadiens.
Sure, the Habs went the distance against the Boston Bruins in the second round, yet they also swept the Tampa Bay Lightning in their first series of this postseason.
Some might believe that fatigue could be a big factor in the Eastern Conference finals, yet Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault seemed quite optimistic about his team’s energy level.
“… We were fortunate, I would say, that we finished our series against the Penguins on Tuesday,” Vigneault said. “It gave us almost two full days off, and we had a good practice today and just flew into Montreal. We’re as healthy as a team can be at this time of the year. We’re fresh, and we’re looking forward to the afternoon game in Montreal.”
While the Canadiens have only played 93 games (82 regular plus 11 postseason) versus 96 for the Rangers (82 plus 14), Montreal did finish its series on Wednesday. So, short-term, you could argue that the Rangers might be the fresher of the two.
That might just be nitpicking in the big picture, though.
By the end of their second-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, getting the typical night off between games must have felt almost like a luxury for the Rangers. They memorably played two sets of back-to-back games and six postseason contests in nine nights between the end of the Philadelphia Flyers series and beginning of the Penguins series.
The Wild were better in the second period, but they still couldn’t figure out Connor Hellebuyck.
This is the third year in a row that Minnesota has been bounced in the opening round of the postseason. In 2016, they were eliminated in six games by the Dallas Stars and last year, they watched as St. Louis took them down in five.
Even though they finished the year with over a 100 points, it’s another disappointing year for them. It’s tough to envision them making major changes to the roster because Zach Parise and Ryan Suter are under contract for six more years. It’ll be interesting to see what they can do to shake up this roster or their staff.
As for the Jets, they’ll face either the Nashville Predators or the Colorado Avalanche (the Preds are up 3-1 in their best-of-seven series). Winnipeg definitely looked explosive in Game 5, and they’ll need to keep rolling if they want to reach the Western Conference Final.
With their season on the line on Friday night the Philadelphia Flyers are making a change in goal.
Michal Neuvirth, who has played just 59 minutes of NHL hockey since Feb. 18, will get the Game 5 start in goal when they take on the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Neuvirth replaced Brian Elliott in Philadelphia’s Game 4 loss on Wednesday night after Elliott gave up three goals on 17 shots, the second time he was benched in the first four games. The Flyers have already used three goalies in this series with Elliott, Neuvirth, and Petr Mrazek all getting playing time. None of them have played well.
Aleksander Barkov of the Florida Panthers, William Karlsson of the Vegas Golden Knights, and Ryan O’Reilly of the Buffalo Sabres have been named as the three finalists for the 2018 Lady Byng Memorial Trophy, the NHL announced on Friday. The award, voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers Association, is given “to the player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability.”
The winner will be announced during the NHL Awards show in Las Vegas on June 20.
The Case for Aleksander Barkov: The Panthers center certainly has the “high standard of playing ability” part down with a season that saw him lead the team with 78 points and finish tied for third in goals with 27. Barkov played the fifth-most minutes (1,743:32) among NHL forwards and only picked up seven minor penalties. This is the second time he’s been named a finalist in the last three seasons.
The Case for William Karlsson: Karlsson had a monster of a season with 43 goals and 78 points during the Golden Knights’ historic first year. In playing 1,534:47, the 25-year-old forward racked up only 12 PIMs. Should Karlsson win, he would become the first player to win an end-of-season trophy for a team in its inaugural season since Wayne Gretzky of the Edmonton Oilers won the Byng and Hart Trophy and in 1979-80.
The Case for Ryan O'Reilly: O’Reilly missed one game this season and logged 1,686:10 of ice time for the Sabres. He recorded only one penalty all season, way back on Oct. 24 versus Detroit, a slashing call. His one penalty is the fewest among NHL players who suited up for at least 41 games this season. He’s a previous winner having taken home the trophy in 2014 while a member of the Colorado Avalanche.