NHL Playoffs 2012: Senators vs. Rangers Preview

Mar 8, 2012; Ottawa, ON, CAN; New York Rangers left wing Brandon Proulx (8) fights with Ottawa Senators centre Zack Smith (15) in the third period at Scotiabank Place. The Senators defeated the Rangers 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Marc DesRosiers-US PRESSWIRE

If it seems like it's been forever since the Northeast Division produced just two playoff teams, that's because it sort of has. The last time just two teams made it out of the Northeast was in 2008-2009, when the Bruins were #1 in the Eastern Conference, began the playoffs by sweeping Montreal and lost in demoralizing fashion in the Eastern Conference semifinals to Carolina.

Unlike many anticipated during the final two months of this campaign, the first round of the playoffs won't see Boston and Ottawa facing off against each other, as a late-season slump by the Ottawa Senators doomed them to the eighth seed and a matchup with the vaunted New York Rangers, for whom the Senators proved to be a handful during the 2011-12 season.

Here are the relevant numbers from this year's series between Ottawa and New York:

Series: Ottawa, 3-1

Goals For: Ottawa - 13 (3.25/game); New York - 8 (2/game)

Shots: Ottawa - 117 (29.25/game); New York - 107 (26.75/game)

Leading Scorers: Ottawa - Jason Spezza (4-2=6); New York - Marian Gaborik (3-2=5)

More after the jump...

Of course, it's a different season now, and the Senators are struggling while the Rangers - who've been on cruise control for much of the last three weeks - are in the best shape that they've been in.

Sure, the Senators are getting Craig Anderson back, but will that be enough to unseat the Rangers in the playoffs?

Well, it's tough to tell.

It's been five seasons since the Rangers won a postseason series at all, and 1997 was the last time that the team made the conference finals. Are Brad Richards and a more reckless John Tortorella enough to get the team back in the high life again?

We'll find that out soon enough, but they should be enough to at least get them past Ottawa, who isn't thin but whose lack of NHL postseason experience doesn't do much to inspire confidence. Once you get past the Jason Spezza line and whatever Erik Karlsson's doing in the opposing team's attacking zone, Ottawa's a bunch of question marks.

But if you're relying on postseason experience to craft your predictions, this is a 0-0 series and it doesn't get much further than that.

On paper, the Rangers' commitment to defense and Ottawa's commitment to offense looks like a push. So, too, does the Rangers' lack of offensive flow coupled with Ottawa's struggles in their own end.

But the intangibles point to New York - a deeper, more physical team that's built to play a heavy game that will wear down opponents and take the wind out of their competition's sails - Bruins fans know this all too well.

The series should go to New York, and it shouldn't take seven games to get there. Bruins fans can only hope that if it does, the Rags run into an equally brutal Philadelphia or New Jersey team in the conference semifinals.

Whoops, just ruined the mystery behind the next two prediction posts.

Prediction: New York, 4-1

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