Key Matchup-

The Penguins have a revitalized Sidney Crosby backed up by the whole Penguins team who seem to have been given new life after Mike Johnston was replaced with Mike Sullivan on the bench. Crosby’s offensive play is back up with the best in the league; while the rough start to the Penguins season has had his defensive shot rates down. The Rangers’ Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi will not be likely to be around at the beginning of the series so the New York team will need to lean on top line center Derek Stepan to keep Crosby in check. Stepan held a similar shot rate percentage to the Pens’ captain and is underrated as a player, but has an opportunity to show his worth and give New York an opportunity at the second round.

Pittsburgh Penguins-

Winning Formula: 

The change of head coach from Mike Johnston to Mike Sullivan mid-season has been a literal game changer for the Penguins team. Since the change was made the Pens have been using their speed to tire out other teams early in the game, the defensive unit has become more adept at moving the puck, and Sidney Crosby looks like a different player since the coaching switch; producing far more than he did earlier in the season on under Johnston. The Pittsburgh team is one of the best possession squads in the Eastern Conference, and when they have the puck they have the ability to put it in the back of the net. Phil Kessel and when healthy Evgeni Malkin can be expected to put up numbers. Kris Letang may also be a key player in this series adding assists, goals, and a defensive edge. It is unclear whether Marc-Andre Fleury will be healthy and in the net at the beginning of the series; if he is he has the experience and ability to stop shots, but if he isn’t the other Penguins goal tending options aren’t to be overlooked. The alternative goaltenders may have less experience, but the skill and talent is aplenty.

How to Lose the Series in 7 Games or Less:  The Penguins have a so much going for them entering this series, but since their 2009 Stanley Cup win they have fallen again and again to rivals and underdogs alike. They have won four total playoff series over the last six years since winning their last Stanley Cup, but have lost seven of their last eight postseason games against the Rangers and were ousted by them each of the last two years.  If we look at what is wrong with the current Pittsburgh team we will find a shockingly unproductive power play despite Crosby, Malkin and Kris Letang’s efforts. Speaking of Malkin; he is currently out with an upper body injury. The Penguins have been winning games without him, but until his return Crosby will have an even bigger target on his back and the team will be missing an essential component to their attack.

NY Rangers-

Winning Formula:  The Rangers have the best shooting percentage in the NHL over this last season and the season before. J.T. Miller, Mats Zuccarello, and Derick Brassard have been productive no matter what line they’ve been on. The addition of Eric Staal will add some desperately needed possession game to the Rangers as he averages a point per game in the playoffs vs. .85 in the regular season. Chris Kreider, and Rick Nash will also find ways to make things difficult on the Pens. Henrik Lundqvist is a playoff goaltender. He stays calm, stops pucks, and will stand on his head for his team if needed.

How to Lose the Series in 7 Games or Less: The Rangers rank in the bottom 10 on possession, and all other Eastern playoff teams rank high above them in that aspect. When the Rangers went to the 2014 final, they were top 10. They can’t score if they don’t have the puck; it’s as simple as that.

Prediction: Penguins in 7

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