The Conference Finals in both the Eastern Conference and Western Conference offer a group of fascinating story lines and opportunities to analyze the teams and the NHL in 2014. With each game during both Conference Finals, Hockey Prospectus will look at what the statistics say about the direction of the series, the league and who will raise Lord Stanley’s Cup.
Game 2 – Rangers 3 Canadiens 1
1) .909, .910
The first number is Montreal backup goaltender Peter Budaj’s career NHL save percentage. The second is Game 2 starter Dustin Tokarski’s career AHL save percentage. While the decision was widely lauded, it seems to defy the numbers to play a minor leaguer with so-so stats over an NHL’er with mediocre career performances. Budaj’s tiny sample of playoff work – some of which is in mop-up duty – is terrible, but the bigger sample is more likely to predict an outcome. Of course, it is the playoffs and sometimes hunches pay off – just not really in this instance.
In a sick twist, the Canadiens put on a better puck possession performance without their Gold Medal Goalie. They had 31 shot attempts (on goal, missed, blocked) to New York’s 18 in 20.1 minutes of 5v5 Close. Unfortunately, their goalie’s save percentage at 5v5 close was .833 and only 14 of the 31 made it on net. It is certainly a good sign that Montreal was able to maintain the puck more than New York while the game qualified as “close,” but the improvement seems pretty empty when Lundqvist is unbeatable.
Following the Rangers’ trade for Martin St. Louis at the trade deadline, the long-time Lightning star struggled to get on the board. He has three points in the first two games of the Eastern Conference Final and 11 in 16 playoff games. His Game 2 snipe from the slot was pure hockey beauty. The veteran star has added every bit of hard work and offensive skill that the Rangers hoped for – and now that the power play is catching fire, his presence makes New York’s offense even more dangerous.
Michel Therrien only put Thomas Vanek on the ice for 11.7 minutes during Game 2. There is no question is was playing poorly, but Vanek also is tied for the 6th most goals during the playoffs with five. He has scored 40 goals in the past and has 20 goals in 49 career playoff games. It seems counterproductive to pull a pure goal scorer when your team is struggling to beat the best goalie on Earth – even if the goal scorer is having a rough evening.
Oddly enough, Derek Dorsett was an impact player in Game 2. The Rangers out-shot the Habs 9-2 with him on the ice and he fired three shots of his own on net. One of the calling cards of this Montreal team was their ability to run four lines and get results out of players like Danny Briere and Dale Weise. Instead it was New York’s fourth liner who had the best Corsi % of any Ranger.