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Round Two: Rangers-Hurricanes, series preview and overview

May 18, 2022, 8:30 AM ET [495 Comments]
Jan Levine
New York Rangers Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
The Rangers and Hurricanes meet for the first time in the playoffs. Granted, the two teams met in the play-in round in 2020, when Carolina blew out New York in three straight, though that is not the true postseason with fans in the stands and a best-of-seven. Carolina advanced by defeating Boston in seven games while New York got past Pittsburgh in the same number of contests.

Overall playoff schedule:


Rangers videos:




The matchup:


Rangers:
Forwards:
Kreider-Zibanejad-Vatrano
Panarin-Strome-Copp
Lafrenière-Chytil-Kakko
Motte-Rooney-Reaves

Extras:
Healthy scratches: Hunt-Brodzinski-McKegg-Gauthier
Injured - Barclay Goodrow

The big boys came through when needed in the last round. Mika Zibanejad had a rough first five games but was a monster in games 6 and 7, helping New York advance. Chris Kreider led the team with five goals, including the game-winner in game 6. Frank Vatrano is at risk of being shifted down to the fourth line with Tyler Motte moved up.

Artemi Panarin made up for a rough first round, notching the series-winning clinching goal in overtime in game 7. He didn't look right most of the series but one moment helped make up for much of those struggles. Andrew Copp had his moments, quietly notching four goals and three assists, while Ryan Strome added five helpers and a goal. This line will need to be at the top of their game due to the depth Carolina has up front.

The Kid Line was the team's best for long stretches in the first round. Filip Chytil took major steps forward, showing improved play as the third line pivot, displaying a physical presence and willingness to shoot. Alexis Lafreniere posted two goals and as many assists, though that doesn't fully tell how well he played last round. Coach Gerard Gallant moved him up to the top line in the third period of Game 7 with Laf playing a key role in the game-tying goal. Kakko Kappo was a beast along the boards and his willingness to do the dirty work there will be a key in the series.

Motte's return lengthened the lineup and helped bolster the fourth line. Kevin Rooney is a key component of the penalty kill, as is Motte, Ryan Reaves provides a physical presence and is a leader in the locker room. Barclay Goodrow might be back later in the series. If that happens, look for him to replace Reaves, which would substantially strengthen the bottom-six.

Defense:
Lindgren-Fox
Miller-Trouba
Braun-Schneider

Extas:
Healthy scratches: Nemeth, Jones, Lundkvist

Gallant basically rolled the first two pairings, when all was healthy, giving spare playing time to the third pair. In the first round, Ryan Lindgren missed Games 2-4 and Adam Fox was like a fish out of water without his pair mate. Fox, despite his own zone struggles, still had three goals and seven assists, including four points in Game 6. Lindgren is nursing injuries that will likely result in him not practicing most days but shouldn't keep him out of games. With the substantive depth up front, this duo will need to be better in this round.

Jacob Trouba might have been the Rangers most complete blueliner in the regular season, but he was exposed last round. Pittsburgh took advantage of his poor own and neutral zone play, resulting in Trouba having an extremely weak series. K'Andre Miller took a major step forward in all aspects during the year, but he too had his issues last round. Miller's speed and long reach helped make up for some of Trouba's issues, though he fell in love with each rather than playing strong positional hockey.

Justin Braun played opposite Fox when Lindgren was sidelined. GM Chris Drury acquired Braun for his playoff experience, but his play has yet to warrant the trade of a third round pick. Braden Scheider deserved more playing time, acquitting himself nicely last round. If New York rotates only five d-man, look for Braun to be the odd man out. I would love Zac Jones to get in, but I just don't see it happening.

The Rangers improved play in their own zone after the deadline, but all of that fell apart in the postseason. Part of that was due to Pittsurgh funneling the puck to the center of the blue line, and when the d-men converged, the Penguins sprung a wing wide for a breakout. New York allowed a high rate of shots and quality chances, and when Igor Shesterkin wasn’t at his usual elite level, it hurt them on the scoreboard

Goalies:
Shesterkin
Georgiev

Igor had his moments last round but it was an uneven series. He made 79 saves in a Game 1 triple-overtime loss followed up by a Game 2 win. But he was chased in both Games 3 and 4, impacted by the derisive Igor chant from the PPG Paints Arena. Shesterkin rebounded to win three straight, stopping 99 of 108 shots against and setting a team record for most saves in a seven-game series. In addition, he ended Round 1 with a .911 save percentage and stopped 4.6 goals above expected. If his play is not at Hart and Vezina levels, New York will be in big trouble.

Alexandar Georgiev fared well in replacement duty in the Pittsburgh series and stood on his head shutting out Carolina for the Rangers lone win against the 'Canes during the year. He figures to play only if Igor struggles again or suffers an injury.

Carolina:
Forwards:
Svechnikov-Aho-Jarvis
Domi-Trocheck-Teravainen
Niederreiter-Staal-Fast
Lorenz-Kotkaniemi-Necas

Evidence of just how deep Carolina is up front is that Sebastian Aho did not lead their team in scoring last round. Aho, who is somewhat of an unknown and unpublicized superstar, had five points against Boston. But the Hurricanes depth is what helps drive the team. Andrei Svechnikov posted 30 goals and 39 assists this season and brings flash along with substance, as we have seen he is more than willing to take the body to make a play or deliver punishment. Carolina shifted the right wing on their top line, elevating Seth Jarvis, another mid-first round pick (2020) who has exceeded his draft position, to that spot, moving Teuvo Teravainen down. Jarvis also had five points in the first round after posting 17 goals and 23 assists as a rookie.

Max Domi, acquired at the trade deadline, went through another disappointing season overall and posted seven points in 18 games as a Cane. He had done little in the playoffs, but was the team’s Game 7 hero, notching two goals. In addition, he has a New York connection thanks to his father Tie. Vincent Trocheck, formerly with the Panthers, epitomizes Carolina, as he also brings a strong two-way game, suppressing some of his offensive skill to be solid defensively. Teuvo Teravainen has Cup winning experience with Chicago and tallied the third goal in the Game 7 win over Boston. He completes a dangerous second line which combined for 19 points during Round One.

For Carolina, while the individual parts are very good, it’s the collective sum that makes the team so dangerous. One of the team’s biggest strengths over the course of the season has been their depth up and down their lineup. Captain Jordan Staal brings grit and physical play, grinding down opponents’ top lines, which will be his match up in this series. The Staal line will likely be opposite Mika Zibanejad’s line, though they will see a healthy dose of the second line. Nino Niederreiter has subjugated his offensive game to be more defensive while we all know how good Jesper Fast, who was a Swiss Army knife in New York, is and what he brings to a lineup.

Steven Lorenz-Jesper Kotkaniemi-Martin Necas is a checking line that does have offensive ability, especially Necas, who didn’t have the year expected. Necas profiles as a second line player down the road while Kotkaniemi, who sighed an offer sheet and then long term deal with Carolina, could replace Trocheck as early as next season. As seen, there are few weaknesses up and down the lineup. Each trio is more than willing to dish out hits and has the speed to create chances while squashing teams defensively.

Defense:
Slavin-Deangelo
Skjei-Pesce
Smith-Cole

If Aho is an unsung forward in some circles, Jacob Slavin is not that well-known outside of those who are tuned in fully to the game. But he is elite on both sides of the ice. His defensive game is his calling card but he can hurt you offensively. Both he and pairing partner Tony DeAngelo, who will either be cheered or lustily booed by the MSG faithful, tallied eight points, co-leading their team over the course of seven games. ADA has clean up his defensive mistakes that were on display in NY, aided by playing with Slavin, who allows DeAngelo to freelance somewhat offensively.

Brady Skjei and Brett Pesce during the season were an extremely strong pairing in terms of advanced metrics. In the last round, both struggled mightily and this may be an area where New York can gain an advantage. Skjei, who went to Carolina at the 2020 trade deadline, had a rebound season offensively, tying his career-high of 39 points. Pesce is the more defensive defenseman of the two, but he too can chip in offensively.

Brendan Smith, a fan favorite in New York, for his ability to move between defense and offense landed in Carolina this offseason. Ian Cole is also in his first year with the Hurricanes and this is a duo that could be exposed by New York, especially if they are matched up against one of the scoring lines. They both were okay against Boston but we could see Ethan Bear at some point in this series.

Healthy scratch: Bear

Goalies:
Raanta
Kochetkov
Andersen

Carolina’s No. 1 goalie, Frederik Andersen (2.17 goal-against average in 52 games), doesn’t figure to play in the series because of a lower-body injury suffered April 16 against the Avalanche. He hasn’t practiced, though head coach Rod Brind’Amour says he’s hopeful Andersen could return if his team advances. Without Andersen, former Ranger Antti Raanta carried Carolina past Boston, posting a 2.37 GAA in six games in the first round, as well as a .927 save percentage. He allowed five goals in his three wins while Pyotr Kochetkov went 1-1 in his two games, entering Game 2 when Raanta was sidelined after being run over by David Pastrnak and starting Game 3. He
showed the talent that makes him one of the team’s better prospects, and if Raanta scuffles, Brind’Amour could turn to Kochetkov with Andersen out.

A few storylines/keys:
Creating off the rush vs. off the cycle:
SportsNet highlighted the following aspect and it is one of the major keys in the series. Pittsburgh took away the neutral zone preventing New York from using stretch passes, making the team more of a dump and chase squad. Carolina will do the same, but as seen below, they are able to better prevent New York from scoring off the cycle. The Rangers will need to find a way in either regard to breakthrough. Defensively, the Rangers need to maintain their structure in their own zone or the Canes will grind them down as they did when they met in the regular season.

In the regular season, New York's rush-based offence was subpar and it didn’t stand out in Round 1 either. But where they did succeed in their opening series was off the cycle, generating the fifth best rate of the playoffs of 8.4 slot attempts per 60. That’s going to match against a team that’s very good at limiting their opponent from having sustained offensive pressure; the Hurricanes are active with their sticks and close shooting and passing lanes in their own zone. Carolina only allowed 4.4 slot attempts off the cycle in Round 1. So how the Rangers can permeate that is going to be important.

On the flip side, the Hurricanes excelled at creating shots off the cycle in the regular season. This is a team that’s really good at intercepting pucks from their teammates and holding the zone to keep offence alive. How will that pair against the Rangers, who allowed 9.0 slot attempts against per 60 in Round 1? It likely comes down to how Shesterkin can handle it if Carolina exploits that weakness.


Familiarity breeds contempt:
Carolina has become New York south. Six players that played for the Rangers are now a member of the Hurricanes. Five of those players were on the last New York team to be part of the playoffs in 2017. Fast, Derek Stepan, Skjei, Smith and Antti Raanta, who dressed as a backup for all 12 games but did not play, were members of that squad. Add in DeAngelo and you have a fairly substantive portion of Carolina’a current roster that have roots with the Rangers. Of the six, DeAngelo is the one that most likely wants to stick up the team’s you know given his suspension last year and circumstances surrounding his departure.

5x5 production:
This is likely where the biggest disparity between the two teams sits. In the first round, Pittsburgh created 116 high-danger opportunities against New York in what was roughly eight games of hockey when you add in the overtimes. The next closest team in the first round was Edmonton with 94. Most of that damage was done 5x5, as at the end of their first round series, Pittsburgh had a +2 goal differential, a +10 expected goal differential, and an absurd +60 differential in terms of high-danger scoring chances.

Carolina’s 5-on-5 advantage in this series should be significant. The Hurricanes finished with the third-best goal differential, second-best shot attempt rate, fourth-best expected goals rate, and third-best high-danger scoring chance rate in the NHL over the regular season. Conversely, the Blueshirts ranked 14th, 25th, 24th, and 21st, respectively, in those same categories. In the playoffs, as seen above, the Rangers were subsumed 5x5, though in the last two games, several key goals were scored at even strength.

New York was brutal 5x5 prior to the trade deadline, but the three acquisitions, especially Copp and Motte, helped the team improve down the stretch. In round one, all that went out the window against the Penguins, who are a good 5-on-5 team but nowhere close to Carolina. The Hurricanes ranked fourth in Corsi For, which measures shots, missed attempts and blocks, at five-on-five this season. Those numbers evidence a relentless forecheck and quick trigger plus willingness to shoot once the puck is on their sticks. This is where Igor will need to be brilliant and the Rangers’ overall play will have to improve substantially over round one.

Power play:
If New York is going to win the series, it will be here. But, another advantage that the Rangers had over the Penguins, gets mitigated against the Hurricanes.

During the regular season, the Rangers’ power play was fourth in the league at 25.2 percent. Kreider led the NHL with 26 power-play goals this year, Panarin was tied for sixth in power-play points with 37, and Fox piloted the strong unit from the point. Carolina finished first in the league by a wide margin with an 88% success rate on the penalty kill in the regular season.

In round one, New York posted a 31.6% success rate on the PP against Pittsburgh and got timely goals on the man advantage throughout the series, including the game-winner in Game 7 and markers that brought them back in Game 6. This will be a tougher task against Carolina. One small sliver of hope is that the Hurricanes’ penalty-kill rate dropped from their lofty regular season numbers to 79 percent in their seven-game victory over the Bruins in the opening round.

In Round One, Carolina scored multiple power play goals in two of their four wins, but also provided Boston with as many as nine power play chances in a single game during one of their losses. For New York to win, they need to force the Canes into mistakes and penalties, making them pay for those errors, but also be elite on their own penalty kill.

Prediction:
On paper, the Hurricanes have the distinct advantage almost across the board. New York may have more star power but Carolina has the deeper lineup, both offensively and defensively. The ‘Canes are more dangerous 5x5 and have the special teams to nullify the Rangers’ power play while doing damage of their own.

In goal, New York should have a distinct edge but Raanta showed he was up to the task in round one and Kochetkov is a better option than Louis Domingue. Shesterkin needs to be the Igor we saw during the regular season and the latter parts of Game 6 and 7 for the Rangers to have a chance. The analytics favor Carolina but they don’t measure heart or resiliency, as this team clearly lives up to their motto of #NoQuitinNewYork.

My heart says Rangers in seven but my head says Carolina in six. In this case, head has to follow heart. But I sure hope to be proven wrong.

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