It’s do or die. This magical season comes down to tonight. The King’s time in net has come to an end, and it is up to “The Czar” to keep the Rangers moving. Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Qualifiers starts now!

1st Period

It was a much better start than in the previous 2 games. Like the Rangers, Carolina made a goalie change as they deferred to veteran James Reimer. Reimer was faced with a lot of pressure early, as the Rangers drew a penalty and kept the puck in the offensive zone for the majority of the period. Pucks were flying, and chances were abundant early on. But, just after the first TV timeout, the Canes sustained some significant zone time and were able to draw a tripping penalty on Filip Chytil. The Rangers killed off the minor penalty and only allowed 1 shot while shorthanded. The pressure and intensity were much more extreme in all aspects of the game through the first 15 minutes. In the last 5 minutes the Rangers absolutely dominated. Panarin stole the puck in neutral ice, and walked in on the break. His shot just caught the very edge of Reimer’s glove to force it high. Then, after breaking his stick, Brendan Smith crushed Andrei Svechnikov, and the Rangers’ push was back on. With about 30 seconds left, Panarin again picked up a loose puck and skated into the zone alongside Mika Zibanejad on a 2-on-1. This time, Reimer made another incredible glove save to keep it scoreless after one. With 14 shots and 8 scoring chances, the Rangers’ offense finally stepped up, but still couldn’t break through. The slogan this playoffs has been “#NoQuitinNY,’ and through one, clearly there is no quit in these New Yorkers. The boys came to play.

2nd Period

Couldn’t have been a better start. Just 12 seconds in, Chris Kreider took a puck in the neutral zone and shot through the two Canes defenders. He then did one of his signature power moves to bury one and make it 1-0. Just a vintage Chris Kreider play. Unfortunately, the lead didn’t last long, as the Rangers got stuck in the defensive zone. For what might have been 2 minutes, the Canes cycled the puck all around the offensive zone. In the process, Marc Staal lost his stick, and seconds later, the Hurricanes were able to bury a loose puck to tie it up. The Rangers took back control and had quite a few great chances, mainly by defenseman. The offense by the defenseman was a calling card for the Rangers all season and it was something that was sorely missed through the first two games. While they didn’t score, seeing Trouba and Fox not only join the rush, but get a great chance out of it, was a welcoming sight. Carolina held the puck for the majority of the next few minutes. But, with about 2 minutes left, the Rangers had a major push. It started on a breakaway that Reimer shutdown. But, the puck remained loose before finding its way to Brendan Lemieux’s stick. Lemieux fired a backhander but was blocked by a Hurricane’s defender that was sitting in the net. The puck then found its way across the crease to Filip Chytil. He had a wide open net and shot right to the center of it. Reimer dove across the blue paint and managed to block the puck with his stick to keep the game even. It was about as good of a chance as you can have, but the Rangers just could not score. The period wound down quietly after that push, but that was a goal that the Rangers desperately needed. For the first time in nearly 5 months, the New York Rangers were playing like the team that they had been all season. Also, playoff hockey remains the best/worst thing that I have ever had to sit through. 3rd period. Here we go.

3rd Period

It was all Canes to start the third. A couple of great chances were shut down on some unreal saves by Igor Shesterkin. But, the ice seemed to be tilted. And it wasn’t long before one squirted through. Because it just had to be, Brady Skjei fired a wrister from the blue line that was tipped over the shoulder of Shesterkin. It was a matter of when, not if, Brady Skjei would make a hige play iin a big game in this series. Then, a little later, Sebastian Aho absolutely undressed Tony DeAngelo and flipped a wrister off the bar and in. 3-1 Carolina. Suddenly, all hope seemed to be lost. There was not much in the ensuing minutes. The Hurricanes, known for their tight neutral zone defense style, were clearly beginning to frustrate the New York Rangers. It continued to be quiet for a while. Chris Kreider had a chance, and on the other end Shesterkin was forced to make another great save. Shesterkin then left his net vacant, and before an offensive zone faceoff with 1:55 left, Coach Quinn called a timeout. Kreider had another incredible chance but was again stuffed by Reimer. A penalty was drawn and with 1:31 left, the Rangers were 6-on-4. But, Sebastian Aho buried an empty net goal while shorthanded to make it 4-1 and all but end the Rangers season.

Other Thoughts

  • The third period might as well have been scripted. You just knew what was going to happen. The Rangers just missed simply too many opportunities, and they were bound to bite you at some point. Also, since this matchup was announced, every single Ranger fan knew Brady Skjei was going to make the big play in this series. So, of course it was him that set up the go-ahead-goal.
  • While obviously losing is not fun, how can you be mad? Yes, I am definitely sad. But, unlike most other Rangers’ playoff exits, there is no anger and no frustration. This was a good thing. You got playoff experience (albeit in a weird situation) for your young studs. Kaapo Kakko looked like the guy everyone thought that we would be getting at number 2 overall just one year ago. Igor Shesterkin had moments tonight in which he looked like a future Vezina winner. Overall, this was a great experience, and in the end, the young guys were the best players on the ice for the majority of the 3 games.
  • Reimer and Mrazek were unreal. Hot goaltending wins playoff games. It’s happened in the playoffs before, and it will happen again. It happened in this series, and it’s unfortunate.
  • I think this is it for Henrik Lundqvist as a Ranger. If we’re being honest, it doesn’t feel great. Hank has been a major reason for my fandom and the fandom of many other Ranger fans across the world. We were hoping he could get his name etched on the Cup as a Ranger, and when he was named the starter on Saturday, it just seemed right. Obviously, I do want to see Hank retire a Ranger. But, if he does end up leaving this offseason, I can only hope that it leads to him raising the cup.
  • I am excited about Alexis Lafreniere being a New York Ranger. I say that a little bit jokingly. Obviously the odds of winning the draft lottery aren’t great (only 12.5%). But this sweep would all be worth it if the guy who is the highest touted prospect since Connor McDavid gets to wear one of those famous blue sweaters next season. I’ll attach some highlights so everyone can see why people are so excited about this guy. (Keep in mind these highlights are more than a year old and he has only gotten better).
  • This was a fun season. Going in, playoff expectations were low, and around Christmas, it seemed like it would be impossible. A big push in January and February got the Rangers to this point, and even without the extra teams, I think the Rangers would have made it. This is a special, special roster. And it will be for a long time. Panarin, Zibanejad, Shesterkin, Fox, Lindgren, Kreider, Kakko, and many more are locked up for a long time. There are still some incredible prospects like K’Andre Miller, Vitali Kravtsov, and Nils Lundkvist that are about to take over the NHL. This Rangers squad is not going anywhere, so getting some postseason experience in a year the Rangers were still supposed to be rebuilding, is nothing but a good thing.
  • As I just said, don’t forget that this was supposed to be a rebuilding year. The Rangers had no business being in the playoffs back at the start of the season, but they fought their way in. Take pride in that. Be happy, be proud, and be excited. Being a Ranger fan is about to be so much fun in these next 10 years!
  • It’s unclear when the next season will start, but when it does we will be ready. Be happy Ranger fans, it is about to be fun. I’ll keep writing about some other games and some Rangers news, but I can’t wait to write one of these recaps again (hopefully after a win). Let’s Go Rangers!