A great defense creates offense, right? Not always, not if you’re the Rangers right now at least. They’re winning games thanks to their solid defense and goaltender Henrik Lundqvist’s superb play, but at the same time, they’re averaging just two goals per game in the playoffs.
Which is fine because defense is what wins championships, doesn’t it? It’s an important part, certainly, but they’re pushing that philosophy to its limit and it will be interesting to see if it snaps likes an overstretched elastic band.
If the Rangers win the Stanley Cup while maintaining their current scoring pace, they’ll be setting themselves apart from the previous 16 Stanley Cup winners dating back to 1998. Over that stretch, the worst offensive team was the 2004 Tampa Bay Lightning and even they averaged 2.56 goals per game during their postseason run. They had Brad Richards and Martin St. Louis averaging over a point per game, while the modern Rangers are led by Derick Brassard and Derek Stepan, who each have nine points in 13 contests.
The 2003 New Jersey Devils were a close second last among the list of Stanley Cup winners with their 2.58 goals per game pace in the playoffs. That Devils team lacked the offensive star power of the 2004 Lightning, but it had more offensive depth than Tampa Bay. New Jersey featured 17 different players that scored at least a goal and 11 that recorded two or more markers. The modern Rangers haven’t played in nearly as many contests yet, so it’s not a fair comparison, but so far 10 players have found the back of the net while eight have recorded at least two goals. Only two players have reached the five-goal mark (Chris Kreider and Brassard) while the Devils finished with six players that reached or surpassed that milestone.
Breaking new ground isn’t necessarily a recipe for disaster though and in line with that, the Rangers deserve credit for what they’ve already accomplished. They’ve been in 13 straight one-goal games in the 2015 playoffs and the fact they’ve gotten this far by coming through in clutch situations is amazing. Still, one has to wonder if any team can keep this up.
The United States, which leaned on the country’s youth movement when assembling its roster, turned some heads during its run to the semifinal in the 2015 Worlds. Along the way America managed an upset win over Russia in the Preliminary round, but with a spot in the gold medal game on the line, Russia got revenge with Saturday’s 4-0 victory.
Alex Ovechkin, who was a late addition to Russia’s roster after Washington’s elimination, scored a goal and later added an assist on Evgeni Malkin’s empty netter. Sergei Mozyakin and Vadim Shipachyov accounted for Russia’s other two markers.
Team USA might not go away empty handed though as it has a chance to claim the bronze medal on Sunday against the Czech Republic. It would be America’s second medal in three years.
Russia, which won last year’s tournament, will now face Sidney Crosby and Canada in the Championships Final. Canada has gone undefeated thus far and is coming off of back-to-back shutouts against Belarus and the Czech Republic.
The Anaheim Ducks needed to play just nine games to get past the Winnipeg Jets and Calgary Flames. In order to accomplish that, goaltender Frederik Andersen had to be sharp and the Ducks’ star forwards had to perform as advertised, but Anaheim also required help from its supporting cast. It got it and no one exemplifies that more than Jakob Silfverberg.
The 24-year-old forward has three goals and is tied for fifth in the league with 11 points in the postseason. That’s in stark contrast to his 13 goals and 39 points in 81 regular season contests.
“He’s been a difference-maker in all the games,” Ducks Coach Bruce Boudreau told the Los Angeles Times. “We knew he was capable, but he’s gotten hot at the right time and that’s great.”
Silfverberg feels like he’s playing the same way he has all season and wonders if the difference has simply been puck luck. At the same time, this could be a matter of his hard work paying off.
“Just from day one, seeing what he does, seeing his puck skills, seeing the way he can shoot the puck, I knew he could score,” linemate Ryan Kesler said. “It was just a matter of doing it game in and game out. He’s found that consistency to his game now and we’ve been working well off each other.”
Given that the Ducks will face the Chicago Blackhawks next, they’ll have to hope that Silfverberg can continue to be a significant factor.
“I think if we keep playing like we did in the previous two series we should be fine,” Silfverberg said. “We’re playing on top of our game right now and I don’t think there’s a better time to face the Blackhawks than right now.”
Ryan Callahan has already resumed skating after his emergency appendectomy surgery on Monday. If he is healthy enough to play, he’ll be going up against the team he used to captain, the New York Rangers, in the Eastern Conference Final.
“It’s going to be a lot of emotions actually going back there for a playoff game, and I’m excited,” Callahan said, per Ottawa Sun. Not that he thinks the Eastern Conference Final could get much bigger regardless of the opponent. At the end of the day this is about fighting to reach the Stanley Cup Final and he would be pumped to face any adversary to get there.
Indeed, Lightning coach Jon Cooper thinks that the rematch between Callahan and former Tampa Bay Lightning captain Martin St. Louis, who was moved in the same March 2014 trade, “will mean more externally than it does internally.” Although he can’t help but be one of the many people that’s intrigued by the storyline.
“How often do two captains get traded for each other?” Cooper asked. “And then are going to end up going against each other in the Eastern Conference final? You can’t make that stuff up. It’s a pretty appealing story. So I’m actually interested to see how it’s going to turn out.”
It will be interesting to see if either of them end up being a significant factor offensively in this series. Although Callahan has helped Tampa Bay get this far, he’s also been limited to three assists in 12 playoff contests. St. Louis has just four assists in 12 postseason games.
Either one of them has the potential to tip the scale against their former squad.
PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.
Joe Barajas turned someone’s hair into a portrait of Rangers forward Chris Kreider (h/t Puck Daddy):
Stars captain Jamie Benn has decided to stay in North Texas rather than return to Victoria, British Columbia for the summer so that he can make sure his recovery from two hip surgeries goes according to plan. (Dallas Morning News)