With coach John Tortorella, the New York Rangers have advanced to the playoffs in three of the past four seasons. Of course, the first two times they made it, they were bounced in the first round. Thursday, they'll begin their trek toward reversing that trend and most importantly hoisting the Stanley Cup. The Eastern Conference's top seed will host the eighth-seeded Ottawa Senators at Madison Square Garden (7:00 p.m., MSG/NHL Network) in Game 1 of the first round of the NHL playoffs.
As players stated in interviews Wednesday, it doesn't really matter who has what seed. The playoffs begin a new season, the one that all players are ultimately defined by. New York did not have its best games against Ottawa this season, going 1-2-1, but is well aware of what needs to be corrected in order to have success.
The Rangers have overcome numerous distractions this year, from playing in Europe to beginning the season with seven straight on the road to HBO's 24/7 to the Winter Classic. The latest new wrinkle, which is absolutely powered by the media, involves their newest member, Chris Kreider. A few days ago the winger led Boston College to the NCAA championship, and now he's signed a three-year contract and is practicing in the NHL. Does he eventually see the ice during a game? That's the question everyone is asking, but his admission that the Rangers were "adamant" in getting him in New York now has to make you believe he has a legitimate chance. It's unlikely it occurs in Game 1, though.
The Sens are led by Jason Spezza (34 goals 50 points), Erik Karlsson (10 goals, 78 points), Milan Michalek (35 goals, 60 points) and Daniel Alfredsson (27 goals, 59 points). Goaltender Craig Anderson has had a solid, yet inconsistent season with a 2.83 goals-against average and .914 save percentage.
The Rangers boast two top-end forward talents in Marian Gaborik (41 goals, 76 points) and Brad Richards (25, 66 points), but it's their captain, Ryan Callahan, that ignites the engine with his two way play. He also has a career-high 29 goals and 54 points. Henrik Lundqvist (39-18-5 record, 1.97 goals-against average and .930 save percentage) has been remarkable in net, but has dipped during previous postseason appearances. He's the backbone and needs to keep up his high level of play to give the Rangers a chance to make a run in this series.
Thursday, Apr 12, 2012, 7:00 PM EDT
Madison Square Garden