PHT previews each Second Round playoff series with five questions. In this post, we explore a Metropolitan Division showdown between the Carolina Hurricanes and New York Rangers.
Game 1 – May 18: Rangers at Hurricanes, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN, SNE, SNO, SNP, TVA Sports) Game 2 – May 20: Rangers at Hurricanes, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN, SNE, SNO, SNP, TVA Sports) Game 3 – May 22: Hurricanes at Rangers, 3:30 p.m. ET (ESPN, Sportsnet, SN360, TVA Sports) Game 4 – May 24: Hurricanes at Rangers, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN, SNE, SNO, SNP, TVA Sports) *Game 5 – May 26: Rangers at Hurricanes, TBD *Game 6 – May 28: Hurricanes at Rangers, TBD *Game 7 – May 30: Rangers at Hurricanes, TBD
* if necessary TBD – To Be Determined
During their series against the Bruins, the Hurricanes didn’t even have the option to start Frederik Andersen. While the situation is touch-and-go, it seems like Andersen could be available for the Hurricanes at some point (possibly as early as Game 1?) against the Rangers.
That brings up the inevitable question. Should the Hurricanes go with Andersen, if available, or roll with Antti Raanta?
Frankly, there are worse problems to have.
After being a strong backup for the Rangers, Raanta ended up being an underrated piece for the Coyotes. His time in Arizona was less a “failure,” and more the combined forces of bad injury luck, and the emergence of Darcy Kuemper. When called upon, Raanta was often very good, and sometimes brilliant. According to Hockey Reference, Raanta generated a Goals Saved Above Average of 35.5 in 104 games over four seasons with the Coyotes.
You could definitely argue that Raanta probably deserved a longer look as a starter, or at least a more overt platoon situation. (The Maple Leafs may regret pursuing Petr Mrazek instead of Raanta, as one example.)
Despite spending parts of nine often-productive seasons in the NHL, Raanta made his playoff debut this year, which is surprising since he just turned 33. When healthy (there’s that injury luck again), Raanta played very well for Carolina.
Of course, Frederik Andersen arguably deserved a Vezina Trophy finalist nod, as he was outstanding this season. Andersen’s also suffered through some (but clearly not all) of the Maple Leafs’ playoff nightmares.
We also don’t know if Andersen’s in “healthy enough to play” mode, or if he’s fully healthy.
Overall, the Hurricanes approach a series against the Rangers with that tough Raanta vs. Andersen question. It’s better to have too many options than too few, though. (And, hey, at least Pyotr Kochetkov gained some playoff experience, if they once again run on low on options.)
In that bizarre and busy series against the Penguins, the Rangers gained an advantage in net thanks to Igor Shesterkin. It just wasn’t as much of a series-changer as expected.
(Apologies, Louis Domingue and a possibly unhealthy Tristan Jarry, but the bar was pretty low.)
Against the Hurricanes, the most reasonable path for a Rangers upset is Igor Shesterkin regaining his superhuman form, and his team scoring just enough to steal wins.
Much like the Penguins, the Hurricanes have a history of being “goalie’d” in the playoffs. Actually, goaltending used to doom Carolina enough to derail their postseason hopes altogether.
With the Hurricanes seemingly more stable in net (injuries clearly pending), the Rangers likely need Shesterkin to be outstanding. Again, it really must be repeated: Shesterkin put together a regular season for the ages. It’s certainly possible that he heats up against the high-energy Hurricanes.
The elevator pitch for a Rangers’ upset of the Hurricanes is simple. It also summarizes much of the Rangers’ success in 2021-22:
“Igor Shesterkin stands on his head, and the Rangers score enough thanks to a killer power play.”
When you consider New York’s power play weapons, it’s not an outrageous thing to picture. Mika Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin are terrifying playmakers. Adam Fox can put that Harvard brain to work. The way Chris Kreider’s been playing, he’s the net-front answer to Alex Ovechkin. You just kind of hope he only scores a couple power-play goals, instead of a bucket of them.
The Rangers face a potential problem, though: the Hurricanes may just be better than them in every area.
In the Evolving Hockey Team RAPM chart above, you can see that the power play is one area where the Rangers were unequivocally strong this season.
While Shesterkin played a big role in boosting a fairly average defense, the Rangers were legit on the man advantage.
It remains to be seen if the Hurricanes’ “power kill” will negate much of that strength for the Rangers. Failing that, the Hurricanes could conceivably draw close-to-even at special teams, and dominate at 5-on-5 as expected.
When Max Domi emerged as a Game 7 hero for Carolina, it was the latest reminder that the Hurricanes possess a deep rotation of skilled forwards.
Now, it’s not fair to say that the Rangers have all of the star power in this series. Sebastian Aho has been a point-per-game player for four seasons. Jaccob Slavin’s closer to a “defensive star” than many realize.
But you can argue that New York has the bigger stars. Even if it’s the equivalent to one great actor making the matinee, while another star doesn’t get the same billing.
Could adding the likes of Andrew Copp and Frank Vatrano close some of that depth gap for the Rangers? It’s at least possible.
Hurricanes in five
So much went the Rangers’ way in their last series, yet they needed a Game 7 overtime goal to advance and face the Hurricanes. And this wasn’t a case like Calgary’s, where an incredible goaltending performance artificially prolonged a series.
If the Hurricanes aren’t better than the Penguins (I’d lean toward Carolina), they present just as many problems for the Rangers. Maybe the hard-charging Hurricanes style will be easier for a Rangers team that struggles at even-strength, but my guess is that it will end up even uglier.
Shesterkin could swing this, but I prefer Carolina’s chances.