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Rangers look to even ECF at one at home tonight

May 24, 2024, 2:53 PM ET [308 Comments]
Jan Levine
New York Rangers Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
The Rangers look to even their Eastern Conference Finals series tonight at MSG. Florida took a 1-0 series lead with a 3-0 win Wednesday night. The Panthers played their aggressive forechecking style perfectly in limiting the Rangers’ time and space. Game 3 is Sunday at 3pm in Florida.

A few keys from me:
More energy: this doesn’t necessarily mean that Matt Rempe, who everyone and their grandmother is clamoring for to play, will be in the lineup. But the Rangers need to up their intensity while also finding a way to get the fanbase - who sat on their hands Wednesday - better engaged. Rempe, of course, would provide that energy and fire up the crowd despite seeing limited minutes, but it didn’t sound like coach Peter Laviolette was ready to make lineup changes immediately.

Laviolette has several options available. Presuming Filip Chytil has no after effects from the big hit he took from Niko Mikkola just before the buzzer Wednesday, my expectation is he will be in the lineup. (update: from morning line rushes, he may be in the top-six and on a unit with Zib and CK20 with Jack Roslovic moved elsewhere, likely the third line). Chytil is scraping off the rust from the time off, which is one reason why Blake Wheeler, who just recently started practicing after being sidelined since February 15 with a leg injury, might not be inserted tonight. Chytil gives the team another possible offensive weapon, but if he only plays 9:17 and is benched during almost all the third period, keeping him active may not be the wisest roster move.

Jonny Brodzinski brings speed but he isn’t a difference maker. But if he provides depth to the bottom six and allows New York to cycle the puck and limit chances, that might be enough. Jimmy Vesey isn’t exciting but he does his job effectively, and you can’t rob Peter to pay Paul, by trying to improve one area while summarily weakening another. Alex Wennberg has been solid defensively, but as seen when he had a chance to tie the game late in the third and was unable to do so, has been challenged offensively. That also doesn't mean I am benching him. The same for Kaapo Kakko, though we need to see more from him. But that has become an age-old story. (update: if the morning line rushes are a clear sign, Kakko looks to be the odd-man out. Kind of like Game 6 against Tampa Bay). Benching Roslovic and his speed, even though his weak play on the boards in the offensive zone triggered the sequence that led to the second goal, is not a primary option in my opinion.

Cuylle-Wennberg-Kakko has been the team's best defensive trip these playoffs and down the stretch run. I understand the rationale to sit Kakko and maybe tweak the lines, but not sure why a change is being made now. It's one game. Yes, Florida controlled play and more energy is needed, especially up front. But the team came within Laf hitting the post of being tied with seven minutes left in the game. New York had an edge 10-9 in high-danger chances as well, so balancing all that is key. Meaning that unless there is a truly compelling reason - ignoring all the external noise, including from Mark Messier, to play Matt Rempe or shake things up, staying the course might be wise.

Irrespective of who is in the lineup, New York has to be crisper and find a way to create offensive chances. The easiest way would be off the rush but Florida does a good job of limiting those chances. To facilitate those opportunities, the Rangers have to be substantially better at zone exits, which was a major concern and failing in Game 1.

North-South, not East-West: the Rangers are never going to play a linear, straight forward game. That;s not their DNA. But when they are at their best, they can play both ways; using their skill for East-West but not forgetting how going straight up the ice is a solid option as well.

In addition, in the offensive zone, the cross-ice pass either a) isn't always there due to the backcheck of the Panthers and/or b) gives Sergei Bobrovsky time to get across the crease, as he did in the third period Wednesday. New York needs to be more judicious when they use it. Shots on net to create traffic and rebounds are a valid approach. If going cross-ice, lift the pass so that the backchecker - in many cases Aleksander Barkov - can't just use his reach to deflect the pass.

I would love to see the home run pass to Chris Kreider as a way to try and prevent Florida from always committing to the deep forecheck. Take a chance to spring someone on a breakaway to loosen up the defense. Find an outlet in the center of the ice and have him get up ice quickly to a wing to give the D something to think about rather than just station to station.

Target Ekblad and not Forsling: Gustav Forsling has become the best d-man on the Panthers and needs to be treated as such. While Aaron Ekblad was a first overall pick, his play has declined slightly, partially due to injuries and partially when compared to Forsling. When New York is matched up against that duo, they need to act accordingly.

This means constantly putting the puck in Ekblad's corner to make him turn and retrieve. Hit him at every turn, similar to what Florida is doing to Adam Fox. Doing so keeps Forsling somewhat out of the play and hopefully results in turnovers, maybe not immediately, but by wearing Ekblad down and making him worry constantly about getting hit or chased, that could speed up his reaction time.

Payback on Mikkola: the hit by Mikkola is the norm for the playoffs. You can argue a bit egregious given the time of game and also that maybe Chytil should not have been out there, but he seems no worse for wear. While these are true, that doesn't mean the hit should go unnoticed or allowed to go without response.

The playoffs are about sending messages. New York needs to make sure - legally - that Florida, and it may be Mikkola or it may be a skilled forward - receives notice that hits such as that won't be tolerated without a reaction. Think of the Untouchables, two of theirs for one of yours.

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