Here we go. For the first time in 2 years we have New York Rangers playoff hockey. While starting Lundqvist might come as a bit of a surprise, there is not a man in the world that I trust more in a big game than the King. One last run at the cup, let’s do it.

1st Period

Maybe the most fast-paced, physical, high intensity start to a game we’ve seen all year. It all came from former Ranger Brady Skjei. Skjei took a huge shot at Jesper Fast and the Rangers spent the next couple of minutes just trying to get some revenge. Panarin took a shot and Skjei and seconds later the Hurricanes buried one. The forwards just could not get off the ice and it only took a minute for it to be 1-0. The pace continued for the majority of the period, but the Rangers just could not possess the puck. Even on the powerplay, they didn’t even get a shot, the Hurricanes just continued to clear. It really could not have been much of a worse start. While the pace was still fast, and the hitting was still furious, the game began to settle down. The Rangers, led by the Julien Gauthier line, were finally able to settle in the offensive zone and get a few shots on net. The next time the Gauthier line got out there, they managed a couple more shots and Kappo Kakko even drew another penalty. It took a few minutes, but once the Rangers settled in, they looked awesome. Starting the second period with fresh legs on the powerplay was important. Also important to remember, for the good chunk of the team this was their first playoff appearance. So, of course there were some nerves, and it clearly took them a little bit to adjust to the pace and physicality. All-in-all, it feels like a blessing to only be down 1. Being outshot 12-4 with 11 penalty minutes is definitely not good. But, the boys looked a lot more comfortable in the last 5 or so minutes and had a few early opportunities in the second with a powerplay.

2nd Period

While the powerplay to start the period wasn’t great, it was better. There were a couple of chances that the Rangers just could not get on net. However, it did start a little flurry of chances that turned into yet another Rangers powerplay. This one looked great. Coach Quinn started with his second unit and the chances were abundant. But, yet again, they just could not score. Minutes later, the Hurricanes were back on the powerplay, and Justin Williams buried one to make it 2-0 Hurricanes. Again the Rangers drew a penalty, this being by far the most important one of the game. Down 2-0 and needing a spark, the first unit was sent back out there. Chris Kreider had an incredible chance but couldn’t bury it. With 38 seconds on the powerplay, Adam Fox took a tripping penalty to end the Rangers man advantage. With how dominant the powerplay was all year, being 0-5 halfway through the first play-in game had to have been more frustrating than anything. Fox came out of the box and immediately drew another penalty, and for the sixth time of the game, the Rangers were headed to the powerplay, seemingly needing a goal. But, yet again, no dice. Right after the powerplay ended, the Rangers started firing. A big push by the KZB line, eventually ended when Ryan Lindgren fired a wrister from the blue line that Zibanejad deflected over the shoulder of Petr Mrazek’s shoulder. An absolutely massive goal made it 2-1 with about 5 minutes left in the second. They had pushed most of the period, and had been the better team, and were finally able to get one home. Just seconds later, Kappo Kakko tried a wraparound, but was tripped and drew yet another penalty. The 8th minor penalty of the game by the Hurricanes. Again, the Rangers could not cash in on the powerplay, there were a couple of decent shots, but nothing in the net. The Rangers killed off the first minute-plus of a Ryan Strome penalty before the period came to an end. The Rangers best period all year was the third. And if there was ever a time for some third period magic, now was that time.

3rd Period

After finishing off the penalty kill, the Rangers countered, and Pavel Buchnevich found the puck on his stick in a beautiful shooting lane. Unfortunately, Mrazek made a beautiful save and it remained 2-1. The Rangers push continued. Kakko and Kreider had a 2-on-1 that again finished in a great save by Mrazek. On the other end, Hank made a couple of saves and Tony DeAngelo threw his body in the way of a dangerous shot by the Canes. At the first TV timeout of the period, the chances were abundant. A few minutes passed, and immediately after the Rangers killed off a Gregg McKegg penalty, the Hurricanes scored a goal that deflected off the skate of Marc Stall. 3-1 Canes. For the next couple minutes it was just a constant back-and-forth. Up until Kakko and Panarin generated a few chances for the Rangers. This was by far Panarin’s best shift of the day, but they still couldn’t break through. A bad penalty by Tony DeAngelo gave the Hurricanes a powerplay with just 3 minutes left. Already down 2, this was about as bad of a penalty as they come, and it seemed like the game was just about iced. But, shorthanded, the Rangers sent out Zibanejad, Panarin, Fox, and Stall, and got some sustained offensive zone time. Eventually Marc Stall was able to hammer home a one-timer from near the blue line to make it 3-2 with 1:55 left. Immediately after, Coach Quinn called a timeout to set his lines as well as make a plan to pull Lundqvist. Hank made one more big save before being pulled, and the pressure was on. Unfortunately, the Rangers could not get much going with the extra skater, and the 3-2 score held. 

Game Thoughts

  • Lundqvist was great. Couldn’t have asked for anything more from him. 34 saves including some incredible ones that reminded us of the Lundqvist of old. There are reports saying that Sheterkin will be available Monday, but personally, I can’t see David Quinn starting anyone other than Lundqvist.
  • Panarin was almost non-existent. He had a couple of moments where he looked like himself, but for the most part, this was not the Hart Trophy finalist we have gotten so used to.
  • Kappo Kakko might have been the best player on the ice all day. He was fast, physical, and all around the puck. Him alongside Gauthier generated the majority of the Rangers chances in the first half of the game.
  • It took Mika Zibanejad a second, but once he got comfortable, he was just as good as he was all year. He blocked shots, he scored a goal, and he was just all around awesome today.
  • Brendan Lemieux was missed badly. Lemieux is a physical presence that thrives on contact and hard-hitting games just like this one. Lemieux is annoying in the best way possible, so not having him out there, especially in the first period was a big loss.
  • Eventually the powerplay has to break through. For lack of a better term, the powerplay is due. 0/7 today by one of the best special teams units in the league. As Ranger fans, we have to assume that won’t carry over.
  • Couldn’t have played much worse. The Hurricanes were far better than the Rangers almost the entire game. That easily could have been a 3-4 goal loss, but Hank kept them in it, and without a Stall own goal, that is a 2-2 hockey game.

Overall, it is tough to complain about that one, you lose Jesper Fast, a big veteran presence and the primary winger opposite Panarin. You could tell that the team was rattled after that early hit, and could not really settle in until the last 5 minutes or so of the first period. Personally, my worry is minimal, but unfortunately, the Rangers do find themselves in somewhat of a must win scenario in game 2. I still trust Lundqvist, and I believe Panarin, Zibanejad, and Kreider will have big days. All we can do is hope Jesper Fast is healthy, and that David Quinn has the boys fired up for Monday afternoon.