Sunday, April 22, 2007

Shuffle Off To Buffalo

The Rangers are the upstarts in the four team tournament for the Eastern Conference Championship and a berth in the Stanley Cup Finals. The Rangers win over Atlanta prevented an all favorite, seeds 1 thru 4, from playing the last two rounds. However, the size and scope of the Ranger sweep over Atlanta sends a signal to the three other teams, especially the Sabres that the Rangers will be a force to be reckoned with. The opening game date has not been set but it looks like the NHL is trying to set up a Saturday afternoon national TV game.

The two teams met four times during the regular season and the Sabres swept all four games. However, and there are a few big howevers, two of the losses were in OT and one was in a shootout. Henrik Lundqvist was the goalie in only one game, and the last time the two teams played was on December 1, 2006. Since the All-Star game on January 24, 2007, The Rangers have played 34 games and accumulated 44 points. The Sabres have played 33 games and have gotten 43 points.

The Sabres may have trouble recognizing this Ranger team over the one they beat four times. Sean Avery, Ryan Callahan, Daniel Girardi and Paul Mara were not on the team during those four losses. Jagr and Lundqvist were recovering from last years injuries and Marcel Hossa was getting marginal time on the fourth line.

Defense is usually the big difference in playoff games and here the Rangers hold a slight edge for the regular season as they have the second lowest goals against in the east with 216 goals allowed while Buffalo ranks fifth with 242 goals against. So far in the playoffs, Lundqvist has a 1.5 GAA and a save % of .939. Ryan Miller, the Sabres goalie, is at 2.21 GAA and .918%.

I have been preaching all year long that the Rangers will only go so far as Jagr and Lundqvist will take them. Jagr has been skating as well as he has all year and Lundqvist has been the best in the NHL since the All-Star break. Add the new guys to the list and Buffalo will be tested to advance to the finals. Ready for some OT games?

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