Breaking it Down: Habs have slight edge

The Rangers may have more depth on the blue line, but P.K. Subban, here stretching during Friday's...

The Rangers may have more depth on the blue line, but P.K. Subban, here stretching during Friday's practice, gives the Habs a big edge on the power-play. (Pierre-Paul Poulin/QMI Agency)

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:16 AM ET

MONTREAL - It’s the Red, White and Blue versus the bleu, blanc et rouge.

It’s 2006 Olympic gold-medallist goalie Henrik Lundqvist versus 2014 gold-medallist goalie Carey Price.

Former Habs coach Alain Vigneault versus two-time Habs coach Michel Therrien.

The world’s self-proclaimed famous arena, Madison Square Garden, against hockey’s most electrifying building, the Bell Centre — aka The Wall of Noise, as P.K. Subban calls it.

And it’s all wrapped up in one intriguing Original Six package known as the Eastern Conference final, which begins Saturday afternoon in hockey-crazed Montreal.

Indeed, there is no shortage of storylines in this riveting matchup between Vigneault’s New York Rangers and Therrien’s Montreal Canadiens.

So, who will come out on top? Well, seeing as yours truly picked the Bruins and Penguins to be meeting at this point, all bets are off.

Nevrtheless, here’s a breakdown of the two teams entering this highly anticipated series. And while there is little to choose from between these rosters, an at-times brutal Rangers power-play, New York’s fatigue factor and the Habs’ home’ice advantage adds up to a slight nod to the Canadiens.

FORWARDS

These teams might be opening this series on the same day as the famed Preakness in Baltimore, but you won’t find any one-trick ponies in this game. Neither Vigneault not Therrien relies on just one big line to carry the load, instead having the luxury of four solid units at their disposal. The Rangers are led by the Derick Brassard-Benoit Pouliot-Mats Zuccarello unit (23 points) while the former Lightning duo of Brad Richards and Marty St. Louis have teamed with Carl Hagelin for 24. But when you consider that Habs third line centre Lars Eller leads all Habs forwards with nine points while Rangers so-called sniper Rick Nash has yet to score in these playoffs, it certainly levels the playing field.

EDGE: Even

DEFENCE

Among the two blueline corps, the Habs have the most significant game-changer in the dynamic P.K. Subban while the Rangers, some argue, are deeper with a top four of Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi, Marc Staal and Anton Stralman. Of course, in defence of the Habs defence, thrirtysomething Andrei Markov still has some fuel left in the tank. And don’t forget Alexei Emelin, who is among the hardest hitting hombres left in the Stanley Cup dance. While Rangers defenceman have the well-earned reputation for being outstanding shotblockers, it was the Habs who led the league in that category.

EDGE: Even

GOALIES

A year ago, this would have been easy, right? Lundqvist had the pedigree, not to mention an Olympic gold medal. But 12 months later, Price has caught up, having a cool golden bauble of his own after his Canadians defeated King Henrik’s injury-plagued Swedes 3-0 in Sochi. Lundqvist, meanwhile, hasn’t played in Montreal in over two years and is one game under .500 at the Bell Centre for his career.

EDGE: Even

SPECIAL TEAMS

To use a horse racing analogy, here’s where the Habs break away from the pack. The two rosters may be neck and neck but the respective special teams certainly aren’t. It’s when the Habs are on the power play that Subban has the potential to be the best player in this series. With P.K. and Markov unleashing bombs from the point, the Canadiens pp (26.3%, 10-for-38) squashes that of the Rangers (10.9%, 6-for-55). While the penalty killing units are close, Subban and the Habs power play gives Montreal the huge advantage here.

EDGE: Canadiens - by a significant margin.

COACHING

Both Vigneault (2011 Canucks) and Therrien (2008 Penguins) have led teams to the final only to lose there. Both are well-respected bench bosses looking for their first Cup ring. Not a lot of difference here.

EDGE: Even

INTANGIBLES

Two huge factors are in the Habs favour here. 1) Fatigue: The Rangers have gone the distance in both their previous series, playing 14 post-season games to date as opposed to Montreal’s 11. In the process, they went through a span of six games in nine days. Brutal. 2) Home Ice Advantage: The Rangers have won just two of their past 13 visits to the Bell Centre since 2008. The Canadiens have home ice advantage in this series. You connect the dots.

THE VERDICT

Lundqvist has won five consecutive Game 7’s, a record for NHL goalies. It says here that streak ends in this series, thanks to Subban, the Canadiens power play and the magic of the Bell Centre. In what looks to be a tight series, Canadiens in seven.


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