Here’s my column from The Journal News and lohud.com:
By Rick Carpiniello
Same state, different birds.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are not, by any stretch of anybody’s imagination, the Philadelphia Flyers.
The Rangers are going to be involved in a test far above and beyond what they’ve endured the last two weeks, and they are going to have to be miles better and more consistent.
The point is, this second round of the NHL playoffs could expose the Rangers and all their faults and flaws.
The Rangers are not terrible or bad or even mediocre. They’re one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. Just not on par with the top two — Pittsburgh and Boston.
And it’s not to say what the Rangers have done here should be ignored. It’s not a Stanley Cup or even close to it — and general manager Glen Sather made it abundantly clear last May that that’s the goal. Making the playoffs is no great shakes, and neither is winning a round.
But how many fan bases and organizations (thinking San Jose, mostly, and all the Tire Fire teams such as the Islanders, Buffalo, Washington, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Florida, Carolina, et al) would trade their situations for what the Rangers have done?
This is their eighth time in the playoffs in nine seasons. This will be their seventh playoff series in three years. Only the Rangers and the Los Angeles Kings have won a series in three consecutive seasons. So, yeah, it’s something.
This is men-from-boys time. This is where Rick Nash (one goal in 19 playoff games with the Rangers), most of all, can man up and be the player he was in Game 5 against the Flyers, the player he was only a few times this season (in Columbus, and before the Olympics).
We know that Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, and that cast of characters with speed, skill and nastiness, will show up. The Penguins are dirtier between whistles than the Flyers were after whistles. Nash and Malkin have sparred at times in their careers, and they could see a lot of one another since Rangers coach Alain Vigneault likes to go top line vs. top line.
It’s also going to be on the Rangers’ special teams — a power play that stunk, and a penalty kill that was great at times and so-so at others — against a team that excels on the power play. It’s going to be about the Rangers’ having two shutdown defense pairs, since Malkin and Crosby are usually separated. And having those four defensemen survive six games in nine nights by Monday’s Game 3.
The Rangers’ shot in the dark? If goalie Marc-Andre Fleury has another playoff meltdown. That supposes that Henrik Lundqvist, who wasn’t at his best vs. Philadelphia, outplays Fleury.
The Rangers’ pass-first mentality is going to have to change. They have to try to get into Fleury’s head early.
The Rangers won’t antagonize Crosby the way Columbus’ Brandon Dubinsky did in the first round. They’re not built that way.
And they won’t have history on their side. The Rangers have lost all four of their playoff rounds against the Penguins, including some beauts:
• 1989 — Phil Esposito fired coach Michel Bergeron on April Fools’ Day in Pittsburgh with two games left in the regular season. Esposito went behind the bench, and the Rangers were swept while using three goalies, including a kid who had never played an NHL game, Mike Richter, in Game 4.
• 1992 — The overblown Adam Graves-Mario Lemieux mess, when Graves was suspended for a slash on the Penguins’ captain; the Ron Francis goal from outside the blue line; Mark Messier leaving Francis wide-open in overtime, after the Rangers had won the Presidents’ Trophy as the best team during the regular season.
It’s funny how in the playoffs, a “long series” is six games and a “short series” is five.
Prediction here? Short.
Series at a glance
Game 1: 7 p.m. Friday at Pittsburgh (NBCSN)
Game 2: 7:30 p.m. Sunday at Pittsburgh (NBCSN)
Game 3: 7:30 p.m. Monday at Rangers (NBCSN)
Game 4: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Rangers (NBCSN)
Game 5: x-TBD May 9 at Pittsburgh (TBD)
Game 6: x-TBD May 11 at Rangers (TBD)
Game 7: x-TBD May 13 at Pittsburgh (TBD)
Photo by the Associated Press.