NHL Playoffs: Gearing Up For Game 7

Rob Celletti gears up for game 7 of Rangers/Senators

Man oh man, was I wrong.

In my first round preview, I predicted a fairly easy five-game win for the Rangers in their series over the Ottawa Senators. instead, what’s played out over the last two weeks has been nothing short of an epic clash featuring everything that NHL playoff hockey is all about. In addition to some wonderful and timely goals, there has been tight checking, physical play, and unsung heroes emerging from both sides.

Ottawa has simply answered the bell in this series. I criticized them for not being physical enough to compete with the gritty Rangers, yet Game 2, which really changed the tenor of this series, saw Ottawa become the physical aggressors. They have played on the edge, and sometimes over it, but it caught the Rangers off-guard. Ottawa has been the better team in this series.

Make no mistake, the Rangers have not played well. They’re no offensive juggernaut, but the nearly 200-minute shutout streak put together by Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson from the 2nd period of Game 4 through the 2nd period of Game 6 was nonetheless frustrating and flabbergasting. But with their season on the edge, Brad Richards, he of the 9-year/$60 million contract signed last July, stepped up and justified the money invested in him, leading the Rangers to a season-saving Game 6 victory.

So now, Thursday night arguably becomes the best New York sports night of the year so far. Two area Game 7’s (Devils vs. Panthers in addition to Rangers/Sens), the NFL Draft (which of course, TOJ has been all over), and the Knicks’ season finale.

I refuse to make a prediction, I just look forward to watching the first Rangers game 7 at MSG since June 14, 1994.

New York Rangers: NHL Playoffs First Round Preview

Rob Celletti previews the New York Rangers series versus the Ottawa Senators and the rest of the NHL’s opening round

On Thursday, Madison Square Garden’s “other” tenants begin their push for what is often called the most difficult trophy in sports to win: The Stanley Cup.  The New York Rangers, winners of the Atlantic Division crown and the number one seed in the Eastern Conference will face an interesting test from their first round opponents, the Ottawa Senators.

Having watched an overwhelming majority of the Rangers 82-game regular season (it’s true, I have no life), this matchup seems like a blessing when compared to what seemed like the most likely scenario just a week ago: a rematch with the Washington Capitals, who swiftly knocked the Rangers out of the first round last season in just 5 games.  Yes, the roles were reversed – the Caps the #1 seed last year, the Rangers #8 – but the Capitals remain extremely dangerous because of the presence of Alexander Ovechkin, one of the few non-goaltenders in the modern NHL capable of dominating a series like Mario Lemieux or Wayne Gretzky in decades past.

Instead, the Rangers face an Ottawa team that is front-loaded with skill and speed, but one that is neither very deep nor very tough. The Rangers made their mark this season playing playoff-style hockey throughout their 82-game schedule.  They paid extraordinary attention to defense, blocked a ridiculous amount of shots and relied somewhat heavily on their goaltending. When playing their best, the Rangers are also a very physical team that’s capable of scoring enough, despite what some pundits think (2.71 goals per game, good enough for 11th in the league). Their previously woeful power play has shown signs of life during the final few weeks of the season.

While it’s true that an average goaltender (like Ottawa’s Craig Anderson) getting hot can change the tenor of a series and render the seedings meaningless, it’s hard not to pick the Rangers to sweep this series based solely on the goaltending matchup.  Henrik Lundqvist is slowly but surely entering the mainstream of the New York sports lexicon (the New York Times’ 5-page profile on him from over the weekend is evidence enough) and has not hesitated to mention that he already feels like “the clock is ticking” on his chances to win a Stanley Cup.  The motivated Lundqvist put together a season that should net him the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goaltender. But he wants to accomplish much more than that.

If Lundqvist plays at a high level and the Rangers avoid major injuries, they’re expected to make a deep playoff run this spring  In terms of this first round series against Ottawa, I expect the Rangers to – pardon the cliche – pound Ottawa into submission. They’re simply a more physical team that has been through one of the most challenging and ultimately rewarding regular seasons in team history. Ottawa’s top line of Jason Spezza, Milan Michalek and Daniel Alfredsson poses a threat, but the Rangers boast arguably the best pair of shutdown defensemen in the NHL in Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh, who will no doubt spend most of their time opposite the Senators’ stars. In addition to the Rangers usual scoring suspects Marian Gaborik (3rd in the NHL with 41 goals) and Brad Richards (playoff MVP for the Cup-winning Lightning in 2004), look for Brandon Dubinsky to have a big spring as well.

Prediction: Rangers in 5

And now for quick predictions on the other 7 first round series in the NHL:

Eastern Conference

#2 Boston vs. #7 Washington – Capitals in 6

#3 Florida vs. #6 New Jersey – Devils in 5

#4 Pittsburgh vs. #5 Philadelphia – Penguins in 7

Western Conference

#1 Vancouver vs. #8 Los Angeles – Canucks in 6

#2 St. Louis vs. #7 San Jose – Blues in 7

#3 Phoenix vs. #6 Chicago – Blackhawks in 6

#4 Nashville vs. #5 Detroit – Predators in 7

Top 10 National TV Sports Theme Songs

TOJ would like to welcome our second new writer in as many days, Chris Celletti, who is also featured at SB Nation NY and can be followed on Twitter. Welcome aboard! – JC

For this blogger who cares way too much about the useless things in sports (announcers, uniforms, stadiums, etc.) nothing gets me more amped up than a great TV sports theme song. I thought I’d take the time to rank some of the current (keyword current) National TV sports themes:

1. NFL on CBS

How can I put this ahead of the NFL on Fox theme song? Because I’m a Jet fan, that’s why. No song gets me more pumped up for watching a sporting event on TV than this one, especially when they play it right after kickoff as they’re going over starting lineups and Greg Gumbel runs down the stats for Mark San-CHEZ (I’ll never
understand why anyone pronounces his name this way).

2. NFL on FOX

This song has been around for so long now. I don’t really have any memories tied to it, since every time the Giants trudge through a riveting 13-9 win I’m usually fast asleep by mid-first quarter, yet it belongs up here because of its longevity and popularity.

3. NCAA Basketball on CBS

Definitely a classic; the problem is that it’s just so underused since the college hoops season is so short. Although, for those three weeks in March, there isn’t any other song that gets stuck in your head so easily. Anytime I hear it, (and every now and then I’ll just YouTube it for the hell of it) it brings me back to scratching away at my bracket after getting every 8/9 and 7/10 game wrong – yes, this has happened to me before.

4. NBA on TNT

The NBA always has good TV theme songs. Nothing will ever, ever be as good as the NBA on NBC theme (the absolute hands down best TV sports theme of all time as we’ll get to later), but TNT’s is solid. It is usually followed, unfortunately, by the voice of Ernie Johnson, but it is a classy tune.

5. NBA on ABC/ESPN

There’s actually two versions of this theme, the faster one that they play when opening a show, or the slower one that’s used when going to or coming back from a break. I particularly like the slower one, especially late in the fourth quarter of a playoff game.

6. NHL on NBC

Something very hockey about this one. Just works well with clips of guys smashing into the boards and Alex Ovechkin having a heart attack celebrating a goal in Feburary against the Bruins. But it has a classic sports sound to it, with a pretty recognizable hook.

7. MLB on ESPN

This is basically the Sunday Night Baseball theme song, and it ranks lower because who the hell watches Sunday Night Baseball unless your team is playing? It’s not a bad song by any means and is a classic at this point. Beyond that, since they dumped Joe Morgan, Sunday Night Baseball is definitely a better place.

8. Golf on CBS

This is the perfect golf theme song, and I don’t know why. It sets the tone for Jim Nantz coming on air and painting the scene of a terrible tournament – “Here live from picturesque TPC River Highlands in Cromwell, Connecticut, it’s the third round of the Travelers Championship. Steve Marino is leading the way with Nick Watney and Brandt Jobe right on his heels…” – Strap in for three-plus hours of
awesomeness!

9. NHL on Versus

This is the worst damn theme song in the history of American professional sports. Their older one from 2008 was pretty good, but this past year it is just a repeating, awful tune that has zero pump-up factor for a big game. Thank goodness NBC is taking over operations over there – they’ll probably just use their standard
hockey theme.

10. Monday Night Football

Iconic, yes. But also incredibly lame.

Let’s also not forget to pay homage to the gift that John Tesh brought the world, the NBA on NBC theme…Best sports theme of all time.