STAMFORD, CT – Surviving their fifth elimination game, your New York Rangers have eliminated the 116-point Carolina Hurricanes and find themselves one of the last four teams standing. It hasn’t always been pretty but this team has an incredible knack for finding a way to win and playing their best when they’re one loss away from the links. They played their best game of the series on Monday in surviving their second straight game 7 and find themselves a mere eight wins from hoisting the best trophy in sports. But to pull off that miraculous feat, they’ll have to knock off the two-time defending champ Tampa Bay Lightning and the winner of the match-up between two supremely talented teams, the Colorado Avalanche and Edmonton Oilers. The Rangers took some punches, but they’re still standing and they keep moving forward. Some observations about what has been key for this gutty group.
You can’t win in hockey with just a few big name players, you need contributions from the end of the bench. The Rangers got s boost in the Pittsburgh series when energy guy Tyler Motte returned for Game 6. And they got another boost when Barclay Goodrow surprisingly returned for Game 6 vs the Canes from what is believed to be a broken ankle. Both of these guys have killed penalties and played in big spots. The Rangers are getting healthy at the right time.
I knew this guy was an important player, but he never seemed indispensable. But the Rangers played their worst hockey of the playoffs when he was out. Lindgren has been battling a high ankle sprain all playoffs and briefly limped off in Game 7 after getting crunched against the boards in the middle of the second. I was hoping he’d be back for the third, but he re-emerged quickly, with a few minutes left in the second. This guy is a beast, and key to Adam Fox’s success.
In Game 2 in Carolina, the Rangers had a four minute power play on a double minor late in the second of a scoreless tie. The Rangers stellar PP couldn’t even get set up and gave up a decisive shorty to our old friend Brendan Smith. But the unit came alive with six power play goals in the four wins, including two in each of the last two games. The Rangers can beat you a lot of different ways on the PP, with Kreider dominating the front of the net, Mika’s one-timers and snipes from the left, and Panarin and Fox creating.
In contrast, the Canes’ power play was methodical and non-threatening. The passed it around the perimeter and didn’t looked like they had any real plan of attack. The Rangers penalty kill was strong but the Canes didn’t really challenge them enough. The difference between the special teams units was the second biggest reason why the Rangers moved on.
If Filip Chytil blossoms into the second line center they’ve hoped he could be, we will look back at these playoffs as the turning point. The Czech looks stronger with the puck and the ability to finish is blooming before our eyes. Alexis Lafrenière has looked solid as well, though the team will have to figure out how to get him more ice time next season, with Kreider and Panarin blocking his path to top six minutes on the left wing. Kaapo has shown signs of really being able to hold on to the puck and create, but still looks indecisive at times and looks too often to make the perfect play. Sometimes it looks like he’s trying to play keep away. Still, it’s been a coming out party for this line and they really picked up the slack until the big boys could get going. The season would be over if not for the “Kid Line.”
What else can you say about this guy? The toe save he made against Teuvo Teravainen in the first, seconds after the Rangers made it 2-0, must have made the Canes think it wasn’t going to be their night. The seemingly unflappable netminder looked a little flappable at times against Pittsburgh, but he bounced back and was his usual shutdown self in this series and the last three against the Penguins. They way he seems to elevate his game in big spots makes you believe the sky is the limit.
Tell ’em what they’ve won, Bob! A date with the two time champs, who gave up a grand total of three goals in four games to the league’s top offense in round two. Yipes!
These two teams are built sort of similarly. Kucherov is a bit like Panarin, a creative, diminutive, playmaking Russian, albeit with a bit more snarl. Stamkos will look to set up in the Ovechkin Office and launch one timers, much like Zibanejad. And though they’re much different players, both teams feature a stud playmaker on the back end with Adam Fox and Victor Headman. And oh yeah, the battle of the great Russian goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy vs the young upstart Russian goaltender Igor Shesterkin will be the marque match-up.
If they can somehow get by the Lightning, a few of the greatest players on the planet will be waiting for them in Nate MacKinnon and Cale Makar, or Conor McDavid, and Leon Draisaitl. Oh baby!
This is no easy task, but I’m not gonna be the guy t0 pick against this team. Rangers in six.
That’s it for me. Let’s gooooooo Rangers. Come back tomorrow for Angry Ward. Follow us on Twitter at @BenWhit8, @MeetTheMatts, @Matt_McCarthy00, Instagram @MeetTheMatts and like our Facebook page, Meet The Matts.