I was not expecting to be making my Eastern Conference Finals expert picks on the New York Rangers and the Montreal Canadiens. Honestly, like most sports fans I was itching at a chance to witness Pittsburgh and Boston bust each others chops in the post season. Instead it will be the color clash of the red, white and blue of the Rangers and the rouge, blanc et bleu de la Canadiens.
To put this series into perspective:
- This is the first time in 18 years and just the 3rd time since the 1979 Stanley Cup Finals, the Rangers and Canadiens will meet in the playoffs.
- The Rangers will head to Montreal for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals Saturday afternoon, 84 years after their first postseason series.
- This is the their 15th playoff encounter which is tied at 7-7 and eighth in which the winner goes to the Stanley Cup Finals.
There are an insane amount of stars on the New York Rangers that are worth banking on. Martin St. Louis, Rick Nash, Brad Richards and Benoit Pouliot will once again lead the fray on scoring against the Canadiens brilliant defense, but nobody on the Rangers roster will draw more of a spotlight than Henrik Lundqvist who has been incredible thus far.
The New York Rangers have always hinged on the production of Lundqvist to a great degree especially in the playoffs. If Lundqvist is on point, like he is now, it’s hard to back away from him in Eastern Conference Finals experts picks. When he struggles, however, you better start running for the hills.
NHL Eastern Conference Finals Series Price:
New York Rangers +110
Montreal Canadiens -120
Likewise the Canadiens have leaned just as hard on Carey Price, who is playing like the best goalie in the world these days. The difference with Montreal is that they’ve been far more consistent outside of the crease than their opponents. P.K. Subban has become a superstar in these playoffs, and while he’s a lightning rod for racism by idiots on the internet, he’s also a hot rod on the ice.
“If you can compete against a team like Boston that’s bigger, stronger and more experienced and find a way to win, you can compete against any team in this league,” Subban said. “I think we’re a team that earned respect today around the league, that we can compete for the Stanley Cup. I think it’s about time that people give us the recognition that we deserve."
Subban is a massive, nullifying force on the defensive end and beyond that, the guy has been producing like a whirlwind offensively as well. Aside from Price, Subban has been the best player in the playoffs overall. He has 12 points, with most of his damage coming on the power play.
“I think it’s just been a long time coming for our team and maybe a coming-out party for our team.” Subban finished.
As a team, the Rangers are pretty staunch penalty killing maniacs. They allowed just one goal on 20 tries against the Penguins when they had a man in the box. That doesn’t bode well for the Canadiens overall, but the Rangers also haven’t dealt with a swirling headache like Subban before. He’s the tipping point for me in my Eastern Conference Finals expert picks.
Outside of the players themselves, the biggest problem is going to be gauging fatigue. The Canadiens just took the best team in the league to seven games and won, while the Rangers have been pushed to their limits in two series thus far, accumulating 14 playoff games already. The fact that Montreal at least gets a heroes return at home, along with a bit of rest, gives them the inside track on this series.
Whether they hold on to it depends on how Price and Lundqvist perform against expectations. For now, Montreal should be the bet and I have them winning in six games, but in NHL playoff hockey betting anything can happen. Hold on to your hats, gentleman, because the Eastern Conference Finals expert picks are anything but a given.
Per @EliasSports: Carey Price is just 2nd goaltender in NHL history to win two Game 7s vs. the Bruins. The other: Ken Dryden (1971 and 1979)
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) May 15, 2014