The best thing you can say about the New York Rangers’ First Round performance is that they simply found a way to win and did not roll over when they appeared to be done. They overcame a 3-1 series deficit, pulled off comeback wins in three consecutive elimination games (including a pair of two-goal deficits) and won a decisive Game 7 against the Pittsburgh Penguins in overtime.
There is a lot to be said for that.
But in terms of their actual play, there was nothing really overly impressive about it. They were outplayed for most of the series, a lot of the flaws and questions that existed in the regular season about their defensive play resurfaced in a concerning way, and even Igor Shesterkin looked human in goal. Despite all of that, they managed to pull it off and advance.
They had to know, though, that sort of effort and performance would not fly in their Second Round matchup against the Carolina Hurricanes. Not only because the Hurricanes are a younger, faster, and at this stage better team than the Penguins, but also because because the Rangers would not be going against a team using a third-string goalie.
That is what has to make their Game 1 loss to the Hurricanes so frustrating. They did get the better effort they needed, and for the first 40 minutes were the better team. They carried the play, were winning the territorial battle, and played what was probably their best two periods of hockey this postseason. Despite that, they only carried a 1-0 lead into the third period and were unable to build on it. And it was at that point that Carolina completely turned the tables on them and put the Rangers back on the defensive. The Hurricanes eventually broke through with a Sebastian Aho goal with less than three minutes to play to tie the game and send it to overtime where Ian Cole won it very early in the extra period.
After controlling play in the first two periods, the Rangers were outchanced 17-6 in the third period and overtime, and recorded just three high-danger chances to Carolina’s nine over that same stretch.
There has to be some regret there for the Rangers when it comes to not being able to build on that lead, or hold on to the lead it did have for just a couple of more minutes. When you look back at the regular season meetings between these two teams they resembled the third period and overtime of Game 1, in which Carolina had a significant territorial and scoring chance edge in all four games. The Rangers’ best -- best! -- scoring chance share during 5-on-5 play in those four games was just 41%, while they had two games where their share was under 28%.
In the one game where they were able to tilt that a little bit in their favor they still could not get a win.
A win would have been significant, too. It not only would have given them the early upper hand in the series, it would have also taken home-ice advantage away from Carolina right at the start.
The question for the Rangers now is if they can find a way to repeat that effort and performance from the first and second periods on Wednesday. If they can not, and if they resort back to the way they played throughout most of the regular season (and especially against Carolina) and First Round they are going to need more magic from Shesterkin to have a chance of even making this a series.
There is little margin for error at this point in the season and you have to take the wins when you can get them. The Rangers missed that opportunity in the first game.
Game 2: New York Rangers at Carolina Hurricanes, 8 p.m. ET -- ESPN, SNE, SNO, SNP, TVA Sports (CAR leads 1-0): The bad news for the Rangers is they played a really strong game and still lost on Wednesday. The good news for Carolina is it did not play its best game and still managed to get a win. The Rangers can still steal home-ice advantage away with a win in Game 2 but they are going to need a repeat of the first two periods from Game 1 and less of the third period and overtime.
Game 2: Edmonton Oilers at Calgary Flames, 10:30 p.m. ET -- Sportsnet, CBC, TVA Sports, ESPN (CGY leads 1-0): It would be really difficult for these two teams to top what they did in Game 1, but we believe in their ability to do so. The Flames jumped out to an early lead in the first few minutes, let a four-goal lead slip away midway through the game, and then still managed to get the win by three goals in a 9-6 decision. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl did what you would expect for the Oilers offensively, but the team’s defensive and goaltending shortcomings and question marks got exposed again. Mike Smith was spectacular during the stretch run of the regular season and in the First Round against the Los Angeles Kings, but the competition is a lot tougher right now against a Flames team that has been one of the top Stanley Cup contenders all season.
PHT’s 2022 Stanley Cup previews • Hurricanes vs. Rangers • Lightning vs. Panthers • Avalanche vs. Blues • Flames vs. Oilers • Makar, McDavid lead Conn Smythe watch after First Round • NHL Second Round predictions • Storylines for the NHL’s Second Round