Third-round preview: Habs-Rangers

After falling behind the Penguins 3-1 in the second round, head coach Alain Vigneault noted that the Rangers' schedule, which had them playing five games in seven nights, was a factor. The conference final schedule won't be so onerous, and the Eastern Conference finals don't start until Saturday afternoon. But the fact remains: The Rangers have already played 14 games, three more than their opponents from Montreal. Will it matter? At some point, the playoffs always become a war of attrition, and the Rangers expended considerable emotion in coming back from the 3-1 deficit against the Penguins. There was also the emotional challenge of helping a teammate, St. Louis, deal with the sudden death of his mother. The Rangers are fortunate because they've received valuable contributions from across their lineup, with 15 different players scoring at least one goal. That kind of production will be invaluable in keeping the upstart Rangers' Stanley Cup dreams alive. Along those lines, we wondered before the last series whether the Rangers could keep winning without meaningful offensive contributions from Rick Nash. He has yet to score this spring, and while he has upped his physical/defensive game, he will have to make himself known offensively at some point. That will mean coming in from the perimeter, where he has spent much of the playoffs. If his goose egg continues, it drives up the chances that the Rangers' run will end in this round.

Canadiens: Durability

While the Canadiens had a different emotional expenditure against the Bruins, they did have to win two straight elimination games, including one in Boston, and it's fair to say the Bruins exacted a far more physical toll on the Habs than the Penguins did against the Rangers. It will be a significant challenge for the Canadiens to put behind them the satisfaction of having dispatched a longtime foe in an often bitter, angry series. This series might be decided in the first couple of games by the team that can find that emotional Zen more quickly than its opponent and establish a tone.

Prediction

These two teams are similar in so many ways, it's difficult to separate what might be the difference. The Rangers' line of Benoit Pouliot, Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello has been dynamic but Max Pacioretty, David Desharnais and Brendan Gallagher, united midway through the Bruins' series, has helped take pressure off the Canadiens' top line. For us, we'll go with the team with home-ice advantage. Canadiens in 6

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