Second-round breakdown: Penguins vs. Rangers
It's not the Sidney Crosby/Alexander Ovechkin matchup many were hoping to see in the second round. Still, this is an intriguing series that should provide plenty of entertainment, not to mention story lines.
The Penguins appear to have taken the lessons learned in their first-round defeat against the Ottawa Senators last spring to heart, banishing those same Sens from the playoffs in four quick games this postseason. The Rangers, meanwhile, also have been maturing, advancing to the second round for the second straight season after ousting the New Jersey Devils in five games.
Both teams look like they are built for the long haul, but, of course, only one will prevail. The two represent contrasts in style with the offensively deep Penguins looking to run opposing teams out of the building, while the patient and disciplined Rangers wait for opposing teams to make mistakes and then pounce. The Penguins are blessed with young, emerging talent like Crosby, Jordan Staal, Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin, who was a force in the first round, while the Rangers will rely on veterans Jaromir Jagr, Scott Gomez, Chris Drury and Brendan Shanahan to carry the day.
This one should be interesting.
2. Rust versus rust. Again with the playoff clichés. But the bottom line is, the Penguins finished their first-round sweep of the Sens last Wednesday. The wait will be good for Crosby, who suffered a painful high-ankle sprain in January. The rest also will help veteran Gary Roberts, who missed the final two games of the first round with a groin injury after being effective early in the series. But how long will it take to get the adrenaline level to playoff level? One period? A game? The Rangers, too, have been idle since April 18. Opening at home on Friday should give the Penguins an extra lift, but the first period or two of this series may not rank as classic.
3. Last call for Jags? If indeed this is Jagr's last turn as an NHL player -- the rumors that he already agreed to a contract to play in Russia next season are persistent, if unconfirmed -- the five-time NHL scoring champ appears determined to head out on a high note. Dogged by criticism for most of the regular season, Jagr turned it on down the stretch, and his strong play carried into the first round against New Jersey. The Devils had no answer for Jagr, who had eight points in five games. Will the Pens?
4. Battered blue lines. If the Rangers and Pens both boast impressive offensive tools, most critics would point to the teams' respective blue lines as the chink in their armors. The Rangers lack the offensive force from the back end like a Sergei Gonchar or a true punishing physical presence like a Dion Phaneuf. Still, this group is resilient and well coached. Playing in front of Lundqvist, a three-time Vezina Trophy finalist, doesn't hurt, either. Likewise, the Penguins' defensive corps is both tougher and more positionally sound than some would have you believe. That said, both the Rangers and Pens sailed through the first round against teams that had little offensive punch. Both blue-line corps will face a much sterner test this time around. The difference between bending and breaking may be thin and may also represent the difference in the series.
5. The Senators factor. Were the Penguins that good against Ottawa, or were the Senators that bad? Maybe a little of both. One positive for the Penguins was, regardless of the situation, they didn't change their style of play. They kept pushing as opposed to falling back and trying to protect a lead. Still, the Senators weren't very good and the Rangers are, so there may be a bit of a culture shock for the Penguins in Round 2. They'll have to adjust quickly.
• Rangers: Dubinsky is tied with Sergei Kostitsyn for the lead among rookie point-producers in the postseason with three goals and three assists. Fredrik Sjostrom, who came over from Phoenix at the trade deadline, has one assist and hasn't scored in 14 straight games.
Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.
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We're down to the final eight teams as the battle for the Stanley Cup continues. Scott Burnside previews the second round:
• No. 1 Montreal vs. No. 6 Philadelphia
• No. 2 Pittsburgh vs. No. 5 N.Y. Rangers
• 2008 NHL playoffs index