They don't get any easier as you go for the Cup and why should it. However, the Rangers seem to have drawn the toughest opponent, the President Cup winners, the Buffalo Sabres. At this stage of the playoffs it really doesn't matter and the Rangers seem to be primed and ready for their biggest test of the season.
As stated previously the Rangers are a much improved and different hockey team from the team that lost four games to the Sabres, all prior to December 2nd of 2006. The Sabres are basically the same group that started out like a house on fire, 10-0-0, but have looked fairly ordinary down the stretch, witness their struggles against the Islanders. Truth be told, two disputed goals, both against the Islanders, played a big part in Buffalo's 4-1 series win. The calls go the other way and its a different outcome.
The biggest thing the Rangers have going for them is the overall team defense and Henrik Lundqvist. During the regular season the Rangers gave up 26 fewer goals than the Sabres. The Rangers had given up 29 fewer goals than the Thrashers and we shut them down in our four game sweep. While there are some similarities in the two teams, Buffalo and Atlanta, offensively the Sabres offer a more challenging group of forwards than Atlanta did. Buffalo led the Eastern Conference in scoring with 308 goals and six players having twenty or more goals. Atlanta scored 246 goals and had four players with twenty or more goals. Still, the Rangers held the fearsome foursome of Atlanta to only two goals and would have to repeat that performance to get by the Sabres.
The Rangers, while scoring 66 fewer goals than the Sabres, have five players who have scored twenty or more goals this past season. Also, Jagr and Shanahan and Michael Nylander seem to be peaking at the right time. In addition, the Rangers have a slight edge in the speciality teams. Surprisingly, considering the Sabres edge in goal scoring, the Rangers have a more efficient power play than the Sabres. The Rangers ranked 8th overall in the regular season with an 18.5% while Buffalo was 17th with a 17.4%. On the penalty kill the Rangers finished 12th with an 83.8% and the Sabres were 20th with a 81.4%. So the Rangers were 1.1% better than Buffalo on the power play and 2.4% better on the penalty kill. Both may be attributed to the goalies. Ryan Miller is a good goalie but Henrik Lundqvist is better.
Of course, the great equalizer and plus for the Rangers is Henrik Lundqvist. Lundqvist finished the year (37-22-6) with a 2.34 GAA and a save % of .917 compared to Ryan Miller's (40-16-6) with a 2.73 GAA and a .911 save percentage. However down the stretch, last 33 games, The Prince has a 1.80 GAA and a save % of .934. This is where I give the Rangers the big edge and why I believe we will win this in six games. Also the defense has stiffened tremendously since the addition of Paul Mara, in exchange for Aaron Ward, and Daniel Girardi who has been a rock on defense. Girardi takes very few penalties and that in itself is a big plus.
Finally where would the analysis be without the mention of Sean Avery. Fearless Avery has already thrown out the gauntlet to the Sabres that he will be going after the Sabres, hitting their defensemen and causing all kinds of problems for them. I love the shy, retiring kind of player, don't you? Avery has already put his stamp on the Rangers making them a more aggressive bunch and now he wants to put the crunch on the Sabres and he doesn't care who knows it. This is all bulletin board stuff for the Sabres to use against the Rangers, but if they need this then they are more worried about the Rangers than they would like us to know. Anyway, the Sabre fans who continue to boo Jagr every time he touches the puck, for what reason I do not know, now will have another target, number 16, the 'Grate One,' Sean Avery.
April 24, 2007Buffalo Sabre blogs:
Sabres Ready to Show Rangers Who's No. 1
Rangers Not Ready To Crown Sabres
Rangers Won't Be Buffaloed
Brash Avery To Sabres: I'm Gonna Hurt You
Rangers Hope Things Will Be Different Against Sabres
Sabre Rattling --To finish up my Q&A with the Rangers Review here we go:Dispatches from the Aud --
What 1 or 2 players do you fear from the opponent most?First, Second and Third on my list are Henrik Lundqvist, Henrik Lundqvist and Henrik Lundqvist. I really do think he’s where it all begins and ends. For all of the attention Sean Avery has garnered for himself, he’s not dealing with the hot-headed, unfocused and selfish Thrashers. The Sabres see Chris Neil and Darcy Tucker 8 times each during the regular season. Why does Avery think he’s even in their class?Prediction: Buffalo has not played their best hockey yet. While they took care of the Islanders in just five games, each game was closely contested, and the Sabres have been catching some flak for how close the series actually was. Head Coach Lindy Ruff will have his team geared up for this series. New York, on the other hand, is walking tall. After an impressive upset over the No. 3 seed, they feel they can hang with anybody. This will be a great series, but an inspired Sabres squad with a chip on their shoulder will outlast the Rangers. Sabres in a long 6.Confessions of a Teenage Hockey Chick (sabresgirls)
In the Crease